God's Mighty Hand and Satan's Restless Hunt (1 Peter 5:6-14)Series: 1 Peter (Living in Exile)
For two years we have been studying 1 Peter off and on being reminded that we are foreigners suffering in exile for a little while, awaiting the eternal day of glory and exaltation. Now, as Peter wraps up his letter, we ask: how should we think and live until God exalts us in due time?
First, Humble Yourselves So That God May Exalt You (5:6-7)
We are to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. God is God and he will do what he sees fit with our lives and we don’t get to argue. Think about the gravity of what that meant for these Christians. They live as exiles grieved by various trials that feel like fire; sinful passions wage war against their souls; foolish people around them slander their good behavior, twist their words, and falsely accuse them of evil; a good number of them are slaves — some of them with evil masters who beat and curse them. Humbling themselves under God’s mighty hand — accepting his will — was a big ask. But, if they did humble themselves in this way while enduring suffering like this, I think that would have rightly led them to have little expectations of what is normally considered a good life. They had to accept losing their lives in this age.
This is a hard learned lesson when suffering feels optional. In the modern West we are used to exerting a lot of control over our environment. Run out of supplies? Click. Can’t find a loved one? Location tracking. Vandals haunting your neighborhood at night? Install security cameras and call the police. Pandemic? Hundreds of millions of dollars later — vaccine. Dirty floors? Hey Siri/Alexa, turn on the vacuum. Suffering? Hey, God? … Nevermind — Tap-tap. Amazon trucks are more reliable.
Catholic Philosopher Charles Taylor has demonstrated that 500 years ago people in the west viewed the world as an enchanted place open to both God’s and Satan’s power — full of angels and demons. Each dark night in their homes, each winter with the cold, each season with their crops, each sickness, each pregnancy, each trip into the deep woods: they held their breath and begged God to be with them and to send his angels to guard them. Then they went about their lives always aware that some demon from Hell might block their path or that some angel from God might guard them, bring timely rains, good health, or protect them from the dangers of each night. They saw heaven and hell as open places that are close to our world and impact our lives every day. And you were considered an absolute fool if you thought you could determine your destiny apart from God — it was considered very reasonable to humble yourself under the mighty hand of Yahweh and cast your anxieties on him. Or, in Peter’s world, at least call out to some god. You would almost never deny the existence of divine transcendent powers.
But for many reasons, we live in a different world now: our take is that we don’t live in an enchanted cosmos full of all manner of spiritual beings we cannot see nor explain, we live in a cold universe that we weigh, measure, test, and explain by means of pure rationalism. We know exactly what caused us to get sick and how to be healed. We know what’s happening in the clouds when rain happens and we can see it coming on our radars. We know how to ensure we have crops without ever saying a prayer. We view people in the past as uneducated, superstitious fools. We know how things happen and we can figure out how to manipulate it to our advantage, and that’s all you need to know right? Never-mind why we get sick; never-mind who sends the rains; never-mind that we can cut a corpse open and identify every part yet we live with a constant undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty because we have no clue who we are or why we are. We can measure, weigh, track, and explain what things are made of, but what’s their significance?
We are products of our age. Our knowledge, technology, and cultural beliefs transform how we interact with our world (and even how we read the Scriptures). It gives us a sense of control. But what about when our body and world doesn’t all work to our benefit? What about when we cannot control it? What about when the rains don’t come, or when they don’t stop? What about when the surgery goes wrong? What about when the virus doesn’t go away? We may just find ourselves doing and rationalizing anything to make it go away — because we can’t just live under God’s mighty hand and cast all our anxieties on him and accept a lack of control, can we?
Every once in a while I have to remind myself that God may be allowing our towers of technology to hold at bay a ton of the chaos of the fallen world, but he doesn’t have to keep allowing that. He can confuse our languages. I’d like to try to forget that, but every once in awhile when I look at Ashley and Ruth I remember that without medical technologies none of them would likely be alive and Judith would likely not make it past 1 or 2 years old. We’d like to forget our control over the world is a mirage, but every time one of us has to take antibiotics or be put under the knife its like the morphine high just wore off and we’re reminded this life is pain and chaos and we may not always be able to keep that at bay with a pill or a tap.
This world is a dark and cold place haunted by hell and its demons, but Jesus and heaven’s kingdom have invaded this world and brought a little light, cast out a few demons, and rolled back the stone — demonstrating that heaven’s day is coming. But we must still suffer many tribulations to enter the kingdom. Sickness, genetic defects, infertility, miscarriages, cancer, accidents, early deaths, famines, pandemics, slander, false accusations, loss of face and job for the sake of Jesus should all be considered standard fare. Therefore, as Peter says, we need to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. To do that, we have to throw off our delusions of control. Our world is not shut off from the dark whims of Satan nor of the often unknowable will of our wise heavenly Father. A war rages in the heavenly places — which touches us in ways we cannot readily see. But God’s mighty hand will guide us and history where he sees fit. At the proper time he will exalt us — the powers of darkness under our feet — but we must humble ourselves.
Humility here looks like casting all our anxieties on God. Why? God cares for you. But do we see how strange this is to us? These Christians had to grapple with a world where they confess Jesus as Lord of history, and the emperor burns your friends on poles to light his gardens; a world where God cares for you and at the same time your master unjustly beats you — all while you cast your anxieties on God. May our blessings not blur our vision. May we always step back with believers across all history and recognize we really are not in control and keep casting our anxieties on the God who does indeed cares for us — humbly accepting what his sovereign hand gives.
Second, Be Sober-minded and Watchful for the Devil (5:8-9)
Yet again, this is tough in a disenchanted age where the devil is a red cartoon character. We sound superstitious to blame suffering and temptation on him — let alone say he is prowling around like a lion seeking someone to devour. But in ages past people intuitively knew their cosmos was inhabited by all sorts of spiritual powers. They knew their minds, bodies, and lives were open and vulnerable to not only the Holy Spirit, but also to demonic spirits. But we intuitively see ourselves as closed off — inaccessible to spiritual powers that cannot be rationally explained away. That leaves us very vulnerable. And we must remember, when he does come, its not always as a terrifying dragon. He and his servants are often dressed up as angels of light and sound like innocent lambs. And he’s tricky: often compromising us by trying to make us decide between two corrupt paths — take the road less wicked.
Let’s not be naive. He is a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. We are always being hunted. I’m sure you have watched those animal shows where the predators are sneaking around their prey in the tall grass, waiting for them to turn their backs. I always love watching the meerkats — they always have sentries out to watch. But my reaction at their different behaviors is a curious thing. When I see lions tracking the wildebeests I think, “Look up!!” And yet, when I see meerkats on sentry duty I want to say, “Take it easy, guys!”
Let’s talk about the devil and our kids for a moment. Research varies, but over the past two decades statistics show that roughly 65-90% of youth will leave the church after high school. Some do come back later, but any number in that general range is staggering. From what I gather, only roughly 10% outright deny the faith. Most simply say they are busy or disillusioned with the church. It’s that simple. When our kids hit their 20s and life gets busy or hard or when they perceive hypocrisy, the devil snatches away the majority of our kids. Are we raising our kids until then as if we are in an all out war with the devil for their souls? Or are we trying to secure their best life now?
Maybe all the homework, practices, and extracurriculars will pay off and one of our youngsters will cure cancer, play for the Astros or Rockets, or become CEO of the next great company. But they intuitively know when all these things bow the knee to serve Jesus and his people, and when they bow the knee to serve their happiness and unique needs. When we are willing to miss bible study, prayer time, the assembly, service, or fellowship opportunities for sleep, sports, chores, homework, or work, we have just cut off at the feet our words which say Yahweh is God and we are in a war with the devil. Our hearts and words might say one thing is important; but they will believe our bodies more. They intuit the truth from our habits. We are what we love, but what we love is not merely what we think — it is what we habitually do (You Are What You Love, Smith).
But the devil is hunting and Peter says we need to resist him “knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” One way we defend ourselves against the devil is through solidarity of believers together resisting him. A few of us were talking recently and we found that all of us were going through a rocky time with our faith. We knew our circumstances were tough, but we didn’t know that each other felt like we were barely hanging on. It was quite encouraging to know that. Misery loves its company — a bunch of wildebeests together as a herd running for their lives.
We’re all enduring suffering at the hands of the devil. We’re all tempted week by week to explode in anger, pursue security in our money, let busyness or tiredness lead us to neglect our assemblies, studies, prayers, and habits to live out and proclaim the truth; he tempts us to join fruitless conversations and activities with the crowd; to anesthetize our boredom, anxiety, or loneliness with pornography, alcohol, and drugs; to believe the stories and hopes of modern ideologies: pursue equality, sexual freedom, life, liberty, and happiness, and the triumph of the U.S.; or in the face of health challenges, marital strife, and financial stress, he tempts us to stop caring, stop fighting, and give up altogether. All across the world, we’re all in this fight together.
By the way, one way for us to truly feel altogether in this is not only to talk together about what we’re going through, but to sing and pray it together. And that can be challenging — so many of the songs in our songbooks are peppy and shallow — very unlike the tenor of the Psalms. There’s a time to rejoice deeply in song, and there’s a time to weep deeply in song. But the songs currently at our disposal give us limited options for that. After we got home from the hospital and the shell shock of everything with Judith’s heart problems, all Willa wanted to sing was Victory in Jesus. I really needed to sing, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I’m not sure what number that one is in the song book.
But we won’t be anxiously hunted forever — note verses 10-11.
Little Suffering, Eternal Glory (5:10-11)
It feels like we are being blown about in an eternal stormy night. But, actually, our suffering is just for a little while and God will call us to eternal glory. We have been weak, tired, doubtful, afflicted, tempted, distracted, tossed about; but in that day God himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us. God will have dominion forever and ever, no more weeds to pull or enemies to threaten.
Proverbs 14:13 (ESV) says, “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.” Have you ever felt that way? Even when you laugh you can’t enjoy it. Can you imagine a day when we’ll be able to smile and laugh freely? Psalm 126:1-3 (ESV) helps us imagine. It is a song about coming home from exile. “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.”
One day the fortunes of God’s people will never be reversed. We’ll laugh and shout for joy, and our hearts won’t ache, because everything sad will become untrue. We’ll come home to Zion and share in eternal glory in Christ. We’ll keep rubbing our eyes because it will feel like a dream.
Until then, let us humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, cast our anxieties on him, be watchful for the devil, and — verse 14 — Greet one another with the kiss of love. You can walk all the way to the fires of Mordor if a faithful friends go with you. May our affectionate, familial love for one another last us through to that day.