“the peace that passeth understanding”

After I wrote this, one of the commenters (Bekah) reminded me of Philippians 4:7. In the King James, this verse refers to the “peace that passeth … understanding”, which sticks in my mind because of the old song, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart”. In the New American Standard version it says this:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

The phrase “surpasses all comprehension” could simply be a way of saying “Wow! That’s a lot of peace!” It surpasses comprehension in that we can’t even understand how much there is.

There’s another possible meaning though, and that is that the peace of God goes beyond what mere comprehension can attain for us.

In other words, there are two ways to try to find peace. The first is to worry at my problems, to keep mulling them over until I see a clear solution. This is the attempt to get peace by comprehension. “If I can just figure everything out,” we think to ourselves, “then I can stop worrying about it.”

The second path is to bring things to God in prayer, and leave them there without necessarily seeing how the answers will come or even if they will come. Then God gives us peace anyway. It doesn’t have its source in how much we understand, but in how much we trust. We can’t figure our way into that kind of peace. It’s only possible by the gift of God.

Because this peace is something we cannot calculate our way into, it may seem to go beyond what is rational. The peace God gives us just doesn’t make sense to us. We can’t see why, given the current situation, we shouldn’t be more worried than we are. And so, in the circumstances, the peace of God really does surpass comprehension even in something like the original sense.

If this is true, then Philippians 4:6-7 implies there is more to dealing with worry than simply trusting God’s promises. It means that, although rehearsing the promises of God and being thankful for what He has done in the past may strengthen our faith and may give us some rational level of peace, there is also something else that happens when we pray. When we come into contact with God relationally, His Spirit strengthens our hearts and gives us a peace that goes beyond the practical comfort we get from believing He will keep His promises.

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