How is a Christian supposed to respond to suffering and persecution? This is the main theme of 1 Peter, therefore all of my posts this week will focus on the answer Peter gave to the churches in Asia Minor. There are many other great ideas in this letter, but because this same question is a perennial one with Christians still today, even in a country like America, I will limit my thoughts to this theme.
Is this world as it is your home?
How we answer this one question may explain why we experience certain situations as suffering. If this world and the way we think life is supposed to be lived here and now is what we embrace as “home” anything that endangers that state of life will no doubt be greeted as an enemy to be opposed. An economic downturn is a travesty because we cannot have all we have become accustomed to. If life here and now is supposed to be getting progressively easier and more comfortable, old age and career setbacks are anathema. Diseases and death are the ultimate foes because they end this life and tear us from this world. Think about the prayer requests you have heard lately and ask yourself if they don’t reveal where our real home is.
But Peter describes our experiences here and now very differently. He calls his recipients “God’s chosen ones who lives as foreigners” (1:1). In tomorrow’s reading he will call them “strangers and resident aliens” (2:11). For Peter the answer to the initial question is a resounding “no.” This world is not our home and, therefore, we should not expect to be comfortable here. We are on our way back home with our father and in the mean time we should be sure not to be “squashed into” the pattern of this world (1:14). The “rescue of our lives” is coming (1:9), “a rescue that is all ready and waiting” (1:5). That is a very different mindset and it makes a whole world of difference.
This mindset can be used to rationalize a total detachment from this world and an apathy to anything and anyone not waiting for the great heavenly train to “back, back, train and get your load.” As we will see that is not what Peter would advocate either, but this mindset can help us to face hard times with faithfulness and even celebration (1:6). If this world is not our home, the twists and turns of fate (or crowd approval) need not leave us feeling uncertain about our future and the quality of life to come. Retirement plans may dwindle. Knees and hearts may give out. Our very freedom can be taken away. However, because of our second birth as the children of God, we have an “incorruptible inheritance, which nothing can stain or diminish” and nothing can endanger that fact (1:3-5).
There is a better Kingdom coming, and until that reality becomes true to us the setbacks that our present, self-centered fiefdoms suffer will seem excessively oppressive.