Today’s passage addresses one of the most pressing issues of our time. ‘Who are the voices that speak truth and where can they be found?’ This 1 Peter passage expresses with authenticity and honesty the very question that all of us are asking – a question that stretches across language barriers and borders, ethnicities, the demographics of socio-economic realities as well as political identities. As a global community, we are asking the same questions and praying for the same outcome to beat a pandemic. ‘What is the key to our continued survival?’ While this virus centers our search for truth within a biological conundrum, at a much more primitive level, our search is about finding the truth that secures our survival. ‘Who can I trust to tell me the truth?’ Knowing the truth or knowing Truth seems like a straightforward goal but the cumulative wealth of history tells us that it is rather complicated. Whether it is the pursuit of a tangible, scientific cure for a virus, or the existential search for meaning and God, we understand that truth is the elusive equation for our survival.
Peter writes his letter to a Gentile community, a group of former pagans that he evangelized. They are the words of a man who is sure of his impending death, penned in chains from a Roman jail – wisdom meant to breathe life into a community that Peter will not live to help. He draws upon the stories of old; Noah and the flood, Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. These are the stories of righteous men who clung to Truth when empirical evidence and social forces pointed to an opposing conclusion. Note that in both stories we see the eventual annihilation of an entire population. It can certainly be supposed that as Peter looks at the fledgling, embryonic church that he will soon leave behind, he believes that the forces of the world threaten the survival of this burgeoning faith community. Peter is invested in their survival -feeling the weight of responsibility to prepare them to stand and to survive in the face of powers that both desire and are able to destroy them.
Those who are preaching a good Word to our congregations are deeply aware of the cultural schisms within our communities and even our congregations. We navigate conversations like vulnerable refugees crossing fields of landmines: right and wrong, sin and how to address it, the deep social, political, emotional, and economics divides. Even within our own denomination, theological compasses can disagree with one another. It seems as if our ability to discern truth from lies is corrupted, so we struggle to find answers but we cannot agree about what is the truth and we cannot identify the truth-tellers. We are desperate for roadmaps to navigate the landmines. If only Peter’s message to his fledgling community was more helpful, or even more hopeful.
The best that this passage offers us seems underwhelming: nine verses of dire doom with one small glimmer of hope. ‘…if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials…’ In order to find hope for his fledgling community facing a Goliath-like society, Peter reaches back to Lot and to Noah and pulls their testimony forward. ‘God rescues the godly from trials.’ But, seeking, finding, and trusting God as our truth-teller is nothing less than a step of blind faith in a world of landmines. If we are honest, the map of scripture can sometimes seem woefully inconclusive. It tells us what we already know, that there are landmines, but it seems to hide the actual evacuation route.
In fact, perhaps that is the key. Our faith belongs not in a map that we use to save ourselves, but rather our hope is in the rescue, or rather, in the rescuer. Peter says that the godly are rescued. If Peter is to be believed, then in the face of annihilation, the logical step to survival is understanding what it means to be ‘godly’. We can look to our Orthodox roots for help in understanding Peter’s terminology, which he is also using in verse 4 when he talks of the ‘divine nature.’
The meta-narrative of our sacred scripture is the journey back to the Garden where we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and had union with God. Sin marred that image. God’s loving rescue is to become enfleshed in our human skin, Jesus wholly man and wholly God, initiates the renewal of God’s image and likeness in humanity. Jesus is our invitation, our road-map, and our journey. Being in the Christ-presence is our continual transformation of mind and heart towards perfect love: Truth. The meta-narrative of scripture focuses on the journey towards renewal of the God-image within us. The individual narratives of scriptures point us in the same direction. They work together to calibrate our compasses towards an eastern star which the wise men follow towards the enfleshed God. The Israelites are brought out of Egyptian slavery towards and eventually into the Promised Land. Noah’s refuge is into a boat in the midst of the storm. The testimony of scripture is counter-intuitively clear, it’s not a roadmap for rescue, neither for the temporal nor eternal, that leads us to Truth. We have to actively receive the invitation and then participate in the journey of deeper union into the life-giving, self-giving, perfect love of the Godhead. John tells us that we become by grace what God is by nature (John 1:12).
In fact, Peter spends the first part of his letter helping that Gentile community remember that life is found in the heart of God. We are to seek to burrow into deeper union with the Divine nature – the presence of God, towards the heart of God, becoming like God. Our nature given in return for God’s nature. Rescue is the counter-intuitive step of faith by which we empty ourselves of our agendas to be filled with the presence and the person of Christ. The testimony of scripture is not about a rescue out of but rather a journey towards or a journey into Christ. We are invited into deeper union with the life-giving, self-giving, perfect love of the Godhead.
We will not find empirical data to prove which theologies or philosophies are righteous and right. Our roadmap is a relationship that transforms us in our nature towards godliness. And our hope is God’s promise that the Lord knows how to rescue us from all trials. If God is faithful to keep promises, and God is faithful, then our hope and our help are well placed and secure regardless of the cacophony of voices in our midst. Like Noah, like Lot, journey towards deeper relationship with Jesus and listen for the voice of God.