Isaiah 48:22 says, “There is no peace . . . for the wicked.” The statement is repeated in Isaiah 57:21. In both cases, the declaration follows the Lord’s denouncements of evil nations and wicked practices. Isaiah 57:20 explains further: “The wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.” The assertion that the wicked have no peace seems to goes against our observation that many ungodly people seem to lead lives of ease and pleasure. At least externally, the wicked often appear to have a measure of peace (Psalm 73:3–12). So what does God mean when He declares that there is no peace for the wicked?
Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus was clarifying the difference between worldly peace and godly peace. Favorable circumstances can provide an illusion of peace as long as all is well. But the peace the world gives is external and subject to rapid change. The Wall Street crash of the 1920s instantly eliminated the peace of investors. Tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes disrupt the external peace of millions. When our peace is dependent on our circumstances, it is fragile and fleeting.
Those who possess only external peace must exhaust themselves continually to maintain it. Their efforts to maintain personal peace often require them to impinge upon the peace of others, which results in wickedness. Burglaries, addictions, adulteries, fits of temper, and a host of other evils are attempts to procure a measure of peace for the ones committing the sins. As long as we believe we are responsible for creating our own peace, we can justify the means we use to obtain it. We will attempt to justify adultery: “I had to leave my wife for this other woman because I couldn’t be happy without her.” We will attempt to justify riots: “I am angry at the injustices in society so I can loot and pillage businesses in order to obtain the peace I deserve.”
When God said that there is no peace for the wicked, He meant that abiding peace is only possible when we are in right relationship with Him. Within every human heart is the knowledge of eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Before we know God, there is a restless longing that we cannot define. We have moments when deep questions surface: Why am I here? Does life have meaning? Is there more out there that I am missing? Our souls find no real peace apart from God.
The beautiful, the powerful, and the rich have the same questions. Money, fame, and power can only provide a temporary peace. What happens when that peace begins to ebb? Those who have rejected God do not know the peace that accompanies the forgiveness of sins, so they attempt to prolong the beauty, gain more power, or increase their riches. They invent false gods, find distractions, or pursue philanthropies in hopes of finding peace.
It feels good to do good, and people have been trying to earn God’s favor with good deeds since time began. Cain may have been the first wicked person to offer sacrifices out of duty (Genesis 4:3–5). He saw the external activity of offering a sacrifice as a means by which he could obtain peace. But it did not come. King Saul also tried to use sacrifice as a means to ensure ongoing peace from God, but the Lord was angry at his blatant disobedience (1 Samuel 13:8–14). Likewise, many people today think that church attendance, tithing, or any number of other Christian-looking activities will guarantee the peace they seek, but they are disappointed. They worship God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8).
We were all enemies of God at one time, wicked people who had no way of ensuring peace on our own (Ephesians 2:1–3). But God sent Jesus, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), to reconcile the world to Himself. Those who trust in Him find that Jesus indeed came “to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:79).
The peace of God guards the hearts and minds of His children, and it is a peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Jesus’ method of granting us peace is the opposite of the ways we would naturally choose. Conventional wisdom says that clinging to our lives and our selfish desires is the way to find peace. Jesus said that we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Peace will escape the wicked as long as they insist on their own way. But when the wicked repent and surrender their lives to the lordship of Jesus, even they will find lasting peace (Ephesians 2:13–15).