“The foreign policy of the personality.” The late John Peck, British theologian par excellence, used this fascinating play on words in a class he taught about the fruit of the Spirit. As far as I know, he originated it. But anyone who has heard him teach will not be surprised at his ability to turn a phrase to give us fresh ideas for thinking about old truths. So what’s with this strangely clever idea?
After talking about love and joy, John had come to the third fruit in the list, peace (Galatians 5:22). He reminded the class that the great Old Testament word for “peace” is shalom, adding that it was the special task of the king to establish shalom (peace; well being) in the forms of political and economic justice, including, and especially, for the poor, the needy, and the afflicted – as they often have no advocate. (For a fuller look at the word shalom in the OT, see this.)
“In the individual,” John then said, “the equivalent of justice in shalom is a balanced personality, one that doesn’t give undue weight to one thing over another. It is an ordered makeup in which priorities find their due place. The economy of the personality is neither inflated or deflated. In external relationships – the foreign policy of the personality, as it were – is secure.”
I heard that word play through the lens of someone who has written much about foreign policy over many years (on this blog and elsewhere), so my mind immediately began making all sorts of associations and analogies between what goes on in the field of international relations and the relationships that can, and do, exist between individuals.
For instance, as with bilateral international relations, relations between two individuals can be tense or relaxed, threatened or secure, unjust or just, adversarial or allied, broken or repaired, distrustful or trustful, unfriendly or friendly, uncooperative or cooperative, intolerant or respectful, and much more besides. But as everyone knows, human relationships are never that cut and dried. They always evidence some mixture of these features. And in some cases, for some periods, they may indeed be mostly friendly or trustful or cooperative, but it doesn’t take much to turn them unfriendly or untrustworthy or uncooperative.
For we are not only sinners privately in the sight of God. Like soil contaminated with sewage or water with lead, our relationships with one another are also befouled by our sinfulness. No bilateral (or multilateral) relationship is going to be perfectly secure, just, or respectful.
“If only it were all so simple!” Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago. “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
But there is also this. No relationship need stay adversarial or broken or unjust if the redeeming and renewing grace of God is at work in it. So with all these associations and analogies rattling ‘round my brain, I challenged myself: What kind of shape is the foreign policy of my personality in these days? Am I increasingly walking in the redeeming, renewing grace of God with every passing year? I’ve been thinking about this. And there are so many contexts in which to think about it, and to do something about, or not. Husband – wife; parent – child; sibling – sibling; employer – employee; pastor – congregant; congregant – congregant; board member – CEO; neighbor – neighbor – the contexts seem endless.
Perhaps I am getting lazy about this transformative process, or making excuses, or unconcerned about it, or even going backward?
One unnoticed way of going backward is by subtly absorbing into our DNA the anti-graces that can be heard in the unbalanced and disordered personalities of any number of public voices, and over time picking up unredemptive attitudes and actions toward others as a result. Be careful what you hear, Jesus said.
In international relations, adversarial or broken or unjust relations are changed through negotiations, persistently pursued. Likewise, achieving the kind of “balanced” and “ordered” personalities of shalom in our relations with others is possible through “negotiations,” persistently pursued. Therefore, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
Of course, getting to shalom takes time, concerted effort, and skill. And it may entail, as in international relations, bringing in a mediator. And in this world, some relationships may never reach the heights of shalom that we might like them to achieve. But apart from working at it, what other option did the Prince of Peace, Sar Shalom, leave us?
©2016 by Charles Strohmer
Images permission of Creative Commons.
Note from Charles: For the next several weeks, I’ll be blogging somewhat less than my customary once/twice-a-week in order to concentrate on meeting a writing deadline for a large project I’m on and also to finish work on a very special Web project, which you will hear about in the near future. Meantime, you many want to catch up on any reading you’ve been wanting to do in one of the topic categories: see on the main page, left column. Thank you very much for your interest in this blog.
Some golden nuggets here from the explanatory partners of Peck and Strohmer!
Thanks Charles for these insights about the foreign policy of the personality. Also great to hear about John Peck too. This does remind me of Plato’s comments about the tripartite soul and society. I know full well that you and John are not ‘platonic’ but to connect individual shalom to foreign policy is illuminating. Thanks for this posting.
Hey, Mark. Welcome to the neighborhood. Great to have you following.
So, you made an association of you own. I hadn’t thought of that one. Very interesting how Plato comes so close to the Truth at times. Problem is, the academy relies too much on him as the Truth. Or perhaps it’s better said this way: the academy doesn’t go back far enough; in going back in intellectual history to find a starting point, it stops with the Big 3 (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle); it doesn’t go back far enough, to the wisdom of the Book, so all we have to work with intellectually are contemporary versions of the forms, across the spectrum of disciplines, including IR & FP. I’m a fan of abstracting thinking, but not of the idolatrous kind! Thank you for your own terrific work, which seeks to help us shake off that religious root and help us to build on the true Logos.