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‘What’s going on?’ Today’s world needs peace of God

Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson

September 13, 2018

Music is an integral part of American culture. It expresses the emotional range from sadness to joy, from pain to laughter and from grief to gratitude.

In 1971, Marvin Gaye recorded the single “What’s Going On,”1 the product of his encounter with the world at that time. His brother, Frankie, had returned from the Vietnam War several years earlier, sharing the horror of his experience. This scenario, along with the social condition of the late 1960s and early ’70s, piqued Gaye’s social conscience and raised his awareness of the human struggle. Out of the depth of his musical soul, the phrase and song “What’s Going On” was birthed.

Although more than 40 years old, the song fits today’s social atmosphere. When viewing happenings in the United States, one can easily raise the question, “What’s going on?” This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, while smoking among teens has decreased, teen suicide is on the rise2. Meanwhile, mental illness has taken a back seat in medical care. This year, several prominent American celebrities committed suicide3, and, in the last decade, public mass shootings have exploded. 

Add to this situation the drama surrounding U.S. borders. People from Central and South America are fleeing in droves for safety. As they reach the border, they are arrested, and their children taken. Mental health care professionals note that removing a child from a parent is traumatic.

Crises are simmering across America. While African Americans are being killed in the public square by law enforcement, American children go hungry because of new legislation that changes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps4. Like Gaye’s song in the ’70s, we ask, “What’s going on?”

The opening lyrics paint a vivid picture: 

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

With all that is happening in this country, one wonders if anyone is experiencing peace and love. If a lack of peace and love is the plague that hovers over America, what is the answer? Perhaps we can find it in Scripture.

With all that is happening in this country, one wonders if anyone is experiencing peace and love. If a lack of peace and love is the plague that hovers over America, what is the answer? Perhaps we can find it in Scripture.

To the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4: 6-7, NKJV).

A lack of peace and love can make an individual edgy and anxious. According to therapists, such as Dr. Murray Bowen and Healthy Church guru Peter Steinke, anxiety is contagious5. Steinke indicates that anxiety is like a virus that spreads. Yet, Paul encouraged his listeners to “Be anxious for nothing.” That’s a tall order in a society in which anxiety is as contagious as the flu.

To combat this spirit of anxiety, Paul encouraged his listeners to seek the “peace of God.” Paul believed that a relationship with the Divine helps in obtaining peace. The key is in the peace of God, which Paul noted, will surpass all understanding and will guard the heart and mind. Peace is not a physical attribute but a spiritual and emotional state6. New Testament writers referenced the peace of God as a means of achieving salvation for the total person—body, soul and spirit7.

Today, removing oneself from the daily struggles of life is impossible. However, this ancient text seems to point the inner being toward an intrinsic answer that can help in these anxious times. The peace of God surpasses, or exceeds, the weight of one’s struggles. To answer Gaye’s question and the question of the day—“What’s going on?”—the answer may be a lack of peace. Peace is that aspect of life that calms the human soul despite one’s circumstances. Peace is that quality of life that settles the human spirit and grounds the soul. Perhaps Paul had his finger on the pulse that calms the human condition. Perhaps striving for peace—not for the sake of peace but the peace of God—is the answer. The world would be better if we sought the peace of God.

Paul seemed to begin the journey toward the peace of God by implying that one should not be anxious. However, simply trying not to be anxious is an exercise in futility, if there is nothing to guide one from being anxious. Here is where the discipline of prayer and gratitude assist. Prayer has long been the foundation for exchange between God and the believer. Prayer has been the force that frees entangled souls and liberates one to be able to imagine peace.

The discipline of prayer and an attitude of gratitude opens the door to not being anxious. It seems that, if you are grateful, then it would be more challenging to be anxious in that moment. Once the discipline of prayer and the attitude of gratitude have been nurtured, the soul and the spirit may find deliverance from the immediate challenge. Paul suggests a strong connection between these disciplines and the peace of God. The connection results in peace that surpasses all understanding. The peace of God enhances the quality of life and provides an anchor during difficult times.

The Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson is senior pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, Endicott, N.Y.

He will present the workshop “Healthy Transformational Leadership” at ABHMS’ “Space for Grace: Thy Will Be Done,” November 14-16, 2018, in Philadelphia. REGISTER TODAY for this national conference that seeks to explore critical issues of mission engagement, discipleship and church transformation facing Christians today.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.



1. Davis, Sharon. I Heard it through the Grapevine, Mainstream Publishing Company Ltd., Edinburgh, 1991, p. 116.

2. Hoffman, Jan. Sex and Drugs Decline among Teens, but Depression and Suicidal Thoughts Grow, New York Times, June 14, 2018, p. A16.

3. Cary, Benedict. Defying Prevention Efforts, Suicide Rates Are Climbing Across the Nation, New York Times, June 7, 2018, p. A17.

4. Bowen, Sarah, Elliott, Sinikka, and Hardison-Moody, Annie. If Congress Changes Food Stamp Requirements, Kids Will Go Hungry, New York Times, July 1, 2018, p. A23.

5. Steinke, Peter L. Healthy Congregations: A System Approach, Alban Institute Publishing, New York City, 1996, p. 55.

6. Tenny, Merrill C., editor. Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1976, p. 667.

7. Ibid, p. 667.

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