Peter, 1 & 2

1-peterThere are lots of question about who really wrote these letters.  Many thought of Peter as an uneducated fisherman who couldn’t have written them in the sophisticated Greek style, although he probably could speak Greek due to his occupation as a fisherman around the Mediterranean Sea.  At the end of 1Peter, gratitude  and attribution are given to an acting secretary of his when Peter says, “By Silvanus, I have written.”  Even the debating scholars are slow in recognizing God didn’t use the elite, the educated, the hero to accomplish his will.

This first letter is written in code with mentions of Babylon, a stand-in name for Rome, the central city of power who, not unlike the iconic city of the same name, gave itself over to licentiousness, evil, idol worship, and false gods in their self-arrogance.  The letter, written in the later years of Peter’s life, is during the time of that fateful fire in Rome around AD 64.

If the Christians were so good, kind, and generous, what was Rome’s beef with them?  Part of the challenge was the false interpretations of their actions were propagated by the authorities through defamatory headlines of the day.  Rome knew Christians followed the teachings of Jesus yet they capitalized on the strange and different rituals done in Christian fellowship.  The rumor was published that Christians were cannibals because of drinking someone’s blood and eating his body.  And then there were accusations of sexual orgies that began with the Holy kiss shared between each other. Of course, the Roman headlines would conveniently forget to mention the brutality of Nero, who would drag the Christians through the street behind horses until they died.  Or how he would ignite their dead bodies to light outdoor parties. The beheadings, crucifixion, murdering of his mother and family members and, of course, the arson of Rome he was suspicious of committing so he could rebuild edifices to glorify him were overlooked.

This was the current environment the Christians lived.  If there is a parallel book in the First  Testament to this one, it would be the same as the suffering as in Job. The persecution and suffering are also in the background in the writings of the Gospel of Mark who used Peter as his source.

Peter calls his readers to the theme of endurance in the suffering despite righteousness (a key verse 5:8-9). Peter wrote about the good news of Jesus during the period of Christian persecution.  He reminded them, in 1Peter 2:12, to “live such good lives…they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits.”

Each year, our headlines say the previous year was the worst year of Christian persecution in modern history.  Not to make light of their martyrdom, the tendency for societies or groups within to alienate or repress different cultures is a recurrent historical theme in humanity.  Opinions on morality, worldview, self-image, attitudes towards others and overall identity contribute to determining a person’s spirituality and religion.  Religious differences can be significant cultural, personal, and social factors.  Worldwide freedom of belief has been deemed a human rights issue.

Returning to the verse I ended within the last chapter, 1Peter 3:15, it says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect.” This verse is a good strategy at different levels, one in recounting that moment of salvation reminds us of the who, what, when, where, and why of our personal commitments.

As mentioned earlier in the Proverbs chapter, my admonition to my kids about what they listened to, read or watched as entertainment influences who they are was saw by them as extreme. They probably can recall when we would temporarily not have a television or cable in our home for a few years.   It was done as a fast from the bombardment of worldly influence.  Those influences, however, still filter through.  I once gave up women’s magazines hoping I could build an immunity to its influence only to learn later that I was still following trends in lifestyle.   The subliminal influence of the constant barrage of advertising etc. is everywhere and unavoidable without a conscious effort.

I  hold that we are what we read, listen to, and watch under the auspices of entertainment.   It infiltrates our lives and becomes a part of us. For a point of reference, today, by age eighteen, the average American has seen two hundred thousand acts of violence on TV, including forty thousand murders. When I am curating information on an idea, I double check myself on what topics I research that lead to predictions of doom, sorrow, depression, etc., or when watching television shows and movies that are subtly putting down men, women, ethnic groups, my beliefs, etc.  The fluidity of vulgar vernacular in daily conversation is becoming more and more disgusting to me particularly from those I think are more educated with a vocabulary to draw from.   It weighs me down and I have a hard time listening for and to the topic.   To try to live a positive life cannot be done with a mind full of negative.

During one of these extreme periods of trying to live without the clutter of worldview news and propaganda, I happened upon news of a death of a favorite musician.  I mentioned it a few days later to the office’s secretary about how sad I was still over this death.  I didn’t know the musician, never saw him perform live, familiar with him only through his ballads and songs.  The secretary rebuffed me by saying, “My, you are overly sensitive!”  In my typical style of developing a response after the fact, I should have agreed with her and said she was right I  am sensitive. Which means I am not insensitive or blasé about death, dying, and killing or to the emotion’s provoked by the headlines and violence of the world.

I still react when I hear of someone’s death,  particularly when I can relate to them in some way by letting things in eve they are in the peripheral of my life and I don’t personally know them.  It is a slow process to filter out the headlines and yet stay relevant to what is going on in the world. I am so sensitized to visual things that I, like a child, cover my eyes or look away from violent broadcasted images knowing if I did not, those images would be future nightmares for me.  One of my boys is particularly aware of this and sweetly warns me when recommending a show that “Parts of it are graphic, Mom.”

Some would argue if I didn’t shy away from negative news, would expose myself more to it that, then I would not be so affected by it when it unexpectedly reveals itself. True enough, but I think God made me highly sensitive for a purpose.  Besides I do not desire to become so insensitive to the hurting of the world that I become hardened to try to respond or help.

It is not as naïve as it sounds, however for many who become Christians, they believe the circumstances in their lives will sort themselves out or become better if they believe in God as if it is a quick fix for all that is wrong in their life.  This can fall under a theology of comfort.

I have a friend whose wife was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer.  They have three children at home and are a delightful family.  I offered my prayers to them upon learning of her diagnosis then asked if he worshipped at a church, wondering if they were getting spiritual support during this time.   He quickly answered no.  Then later I met with my friend’s parents over lunch on another matter and the father explained how his son was mad at God about the current situation.  He said his son wondered if he acknowledged God in his life, would He heal his wife.  And if he didn’t acknowledge God, would his wife heal anyway?   That’s a version of Pascal’s wager. This wager’s bet is if someone can’t come to the knowledge of God’s existence the wise thing to do is to live your life as if God does exist because, in the end, such a life has everything to gain and nothing to lose.  Dag Hammarskjold is credited of saying it this way, “I would rather live my life as though there is a God and die to find out that there isn’t, than to live my life as though there is no God and die to find out there is.”

I expressed to his father that I do not think God is responsible for cancer, evil was. There are so many things we, as a society, have done through our own free will that has, in turn, left us susceptible to cancer’s threat by what we eat, the polluted air we breathe, etc.  And then there is natural evil.  I do believe God goes through the process alongside us and can comfort us.  I am not minimizing the struggles in dealing with personal diseases and sickness, but I don’t blame God for illnesses.  She is now in remission and I believe God will use this, and other examples of those who are in remission.

When life’s inevitable hardships come along, those watching may see the new believer fall away from their faith, not gather strength from it, not carry on despite whatever persecutions.  It casts a shadow on just how powerful faith can be.  The new believer may think perhaps they do not measure up because of some bad thing they did in their life that they were not worthy of healing (again like the mentioned in the application in the chapter Joshua of miracle healing). Part of the extraordinary aspect of faith is its coping mechanism, an ongoing toolkit helping us get through life without becoming too jaded or hard-hearted. We tend to want the “present or gift” given to us in Christ but not His presence, which included suffering or to use Christian vernacular: each will have their our own cross to bear.   There is a sense of comfort in a believer’s life because of our hope but Christianity is not the gospel or theology of comfort.  I can’t get mad at God for bad things that happen in my life (not when I accept the good) because I need him too much.

On the heels of receiving the first letter comes Peter’s second one to the same church audience in Rome.  It was written between the years of AD 64 to 68.  A key verse is about God not being slow in keeping his promises (3:9).

One of the first lessons, while studying to be a journalist, was to verify comments or ideas from at least three other sources.  We deal with the false, misleading, digital click bait headlines of supposed news when not verifying the information elsewhere.  Disinformation is not a new problem, it dates to when information started to be distributed to the masses.

The issue came up once when the kids were small.  While I was waiting in line to pay for my shopping cart full of groceries in the checkout line, they would see all the items on the display rack for last minute purchases.  Often magazines and newspaper tabloids are in this area with their printed headlines screaming out topics from what makes us beautiful to the alien who recently landed and lives in Nebraska.  My kids would eventually ask if the headlines were true.  I would give them my three-verification rule to encourage them to take responsibility in learning the truth and be knowledgeable about what they are reading.

Peter says to guard our minds with the proper knowledge of God so as not to drift off the path that He has laid out.  Second Peter 2:2 warns about the biblical abuser: “Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.” Our tendency is to be impatient and lazy about searching out the truth.

The phrase, “make a decision; then make it the right one” can have a double-edged meaning.  The danger of it is in trying to make the decision work when it’s the wrong one to make it right through human self-manipulation of our own will and selfish desire over God’s plan for our life.

In his book, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell chose it.”

Peter repeats that God has His sense of time and our need to turn to Him. God is never late in answering prayers; He is never early either.  Prayers are answered at just the right moment.  Peter points out that “the Day of the Lord” (Jesus’s return) shall come like a thief (2Pt. 3:1-10).

Sandwiched in the middle of those three verses, in verse 9, is the inscription, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

Peter did not teach by theory; his life was an example of someone who showed up as impetuous, outspoken, impulsive, impatient, and emotional, yet still, God used him despite these unguarded traits.  Consider his character traits and how often Jesus corrected Peter.  There was Peter denying Jesus when the latter predicted His own death. Jesus responded with, “Satan, get behind me!”.

Peter wanted to walk on water like Jesus, when he saw Him walking on sea toward him.  Jesus beckoned him to come to Him.  Peter tried. to walk to Him on water as Jesus was doing. But when he turned to see the wind blowing the waves (another way of saying looking at the wind blows so do people’s convictions); he started to lean into that wind, taking took his eyes off Jesus and sunk. If the cultural breeze feels good it might be a wake up call.  Living in the world as a believer is more of a harsh, stinging breeze often against the biblical truths.  I would rather set myself to the needle of a moral compass than a weather vane moved by wind. The wind l moves us  as position or context changes, but the needle of the moral compass will always point to true North, to Jesus Christ.

Then there was Pete wanting to erect an altar to mark the holy place of the transfiguration of Jesus with Moses and Elijah.  The spontaneous Peter also drew his sword and lopped off the ear of a soldier arresting Jesus (with the ear being restored miraculously by Jesus, then, of course, to his disowning his part of any future denial of Jesus as the cock crowed during Jesus’s trial.  Peter’s lapses were short-lived, and they never went so far as a loss of his faith in Jesus.

Peter is a lesson in the growth of changing his outlook from being set on the things of man or the things of the world and its values to more of a mindset on the things of God.  He shares his secret to growth in 1Peter 1:5-9.  His education, or lack thereof, came from the school of hard knocks.  He was streetwise, no pushover, a leader rather than a follower.

After being the first man Jesus showed Himself to at the post-resurrection, Peter continued to grow in his faith transition from the OT law (from food restrictions, dining with Gentiles, circumcision) to learn God was no respecter of men in this way.  Even Peter’s name symbolized his prophetic character. Jesus changed Peter’s name,  a.k.a. Simon,  to one meaning “rock”.  Because Peter’s faith would become like a rock, an example of a foundation that someone can have in their spiritual life.

Change is not a process for the impatient.   Not all change is growth, nor is all motion is forward as the saying goes.  Change may not be progress but all progress is the result of change. Part of a poem Ella Wheeler Wilcox, a contemplative writer who obsessively strove for more divine spirituality in her life, describes the tenacity it takes.  She ultimately leaned toward Gnosticism in her spiritual quest.  The lines from this poem entitled Consciousness are from her series of passion poems:

“Not to the curious or impatient should

That in the start, demands the end be shown,

And at each step, stops waiting for a sign;

But to the tireless toiler toward the goal,

Shall the great miracles of God be known

And life reveals and immortal and divine.”



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