October 29, 2013

Biblical Studies

A woman is beaten up by her drunk husband. She covers it up for a time, but then goes to the police. A young teenager is teased by her peers because she won’t have sex with any of the boys in the high school. A man loses his job because he won’t work on the Sabbath. It throws his family into a tailspin of debt. Sound familiar? These sad experiences are common enough occurrences of suffering repeated in our world again and again. 

What do any of these have to do with the doctrine of creation? Seemingly nothing at all. To many of us, the biblical teaching about creation has to do with a far-off, distant past, completely foreign and remote from our daily experience. Maybe we wonder if it is really so important after all. Aren’t these just words on a page?

A Forgotten Text

A little-discussed passage of Scripture helps open the mind on this topic: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:16-19).1

The apostle Peter is writing to a group of Christians scattered across Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) in the A.D. mid-60s. Two great challenges faced them—the pull of the pleasures of their former lifestyle drawing them back to paganism, and the push of persecution from neighbors who didn’t understand these Christians at all.

To counter the pull of the old lifestyle, the apostle reminds the church members of what God has done in their past, giving them new birth in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3), bringing them out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). Their old life was futile (1 Peter 1:18); their new life has hope (verse 3). Their new birth and the hope of salvation that God has extended to them (verse 9) form a beautiful song standing against the siren calls to return to the ways of their fathers.

To counter persecution, Peter emphasizes the future hope that all Christians share in the return of our Lord. The apostle calls this return a revelation (verses 7, 13; 1 Peter 4:13). All who remain faithful to Jesus will experience the joy of the praise and glory of His return. It will be the consummation of their hopes and the end of their trials. Thus, Peter answers the tests of the present by anchoring the Christians’ past in the rebirth God has provided, and by pointing them forward to the hope of Christ’s return. They can face the present because their past is settled and their future is secure.

Catch the Message

In chapter 4 Peter returns to the question of suffering (verses 12-19). The argument he makes goes as follows: Don’t be surprised by trials. You are sharing in the sufferings of Christ and will rejoice with Him at His return. When you suffer in this way, you are actually blessed, because the Spirit of God rests on you. Don’t get involved in wrongdoing, but if you suffer as a Christian, give glory to God, for judgment is coming and starts with us. God is an impartial judge (1 Peter 1:17), and if He starts with us, what hope do you suppose there is for the wicked? So then, those who suffer in accordance with the will of God should do good and entrust their lives to a faithful Creator.

One of the interesting characteristics of Peter’s argument is the way he goes back and forth between positive and negative poles. Suffering stands in contrast with rejoicing, trials are not shame but blessing, persecution is not a time for sorrow but for glorifying God, judgment will show the difference between the righteous and the wicked. At the heart of these paradoxes is the strange experience of suffering when you do what is right. It just is not fair, and Peter recognizes that very well. In 1 Peter 4:19 he presents two major concepts that anchor the Christian in times of trouble. The first is the will of God, and the second is His role as Creator.

Two Anchors 

The will of God is a major theme in 1 Peter. He refers to it in 2:15; 3:17; 4:2; and 4:19, and alludes to it in a variety of other passages. It is intimately tied with doing good and stands in contrast with wickedness (1 Peter 2:15; 4:2). Living out its dictates brings persecution and suffering, but this is far preferable to caving in and doing evil (1 Peter 3:17; 4:19). The will of God is a heavenly vision that attracts our attention away from the clamor of wickedness surrounding us. In this it is a stabilizing influence that settles the mind on what is of eternal value.

It is the second concept in 1 Peter 4:19 that Peter refers to only once in this beautiful book.2 The Christians are called to entrust their lives to a faithful Creator. The verb “entrust” (paratithe¯mi) is used in a number of ways in the New Testament, but the strongest parallel to 1 Peter 4:19 is its use in Luke 23:46: “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit (paratithe¯mi) my spirit!’ And having said this, he breathed his last.” Just as Jesus entrusted His spirit to God the Father when He suffered and died, so we are to entrust our lives to a faithful Creator.

Creation and Suffering?

But why does Peter bring up the Creator at this juncture, and refer to Him as faithful? What does the doctrine of creation have to do with the common experience of human suffering? It is not hard to see that the concept of God’s faithfulness is consistent with the way Peter argues throughout the book regarding the will of God, His grace and power, and our relationship to Him. He is faithful, so we have hope. He has given us new life, so He can be trusted. We can depend on Him in suffering.

But Creator, why Creator? Again, the pattern of 1 Peter reveals the purpose of this reference. Peter likes to talk in big ideas, broad, sweeping panoramas of grace, power, revelation, hope. It is completely fitting that he makes reference all the way back to the beginning of our world, just as he points forward to the great end when Christ shall return. If God has been in charge of our world all the way from the beginning and will be until the end, then we can trust Him even in the hardest of times now. Creation matters when it comes to suffering. It speaks to the abused, down-
trodden, persecuted, and yes, even those who are teased for living as Christians. It truly does matter. It isn’t simply words on a page or a dead doctrine that one accepts intellectually, but has no relevance to everyday affairs.

Creation and the Missing Link

One more point is crucial. The Bible’s concept of creation consistently pre-sents it as something that God did through His almighty power without the least difficulty. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. . . . For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:6, 9).

Creation was instantaneous. God spoke, and there it was. There is no indication in Scripture that bringing forth life in its myriad forms on our planet took millions of years or involved evolutionary processes of death, struggle, tooth, and claw. On the contrary, the biblical record is simple and direct. God created life in this world in six literal days and rested on the seventh day as a memorial of His creative power.

It is to this sense of the creative power, the inexorable authority, and unsurpassable sovereignty of God that Peter appeals in 1 Peter 4:19. If creation happened through long evolutionary processes of struggle, death, and suffering, it would bring no comfort at all to Peter’s congregations. No, God is the faithful, sovereign, almighty Creator. This truth links us to Him in the worst of times. Therefore, I am thankful that my church teaches that God’s creative activity at the beginning of our world happened quickly and simply in six literal days and that we remember Him as the faithful Creator on every Sabbath. I am glad that we have entrusted our lives to Him as the faithful Creator. It’s an anchor when we suffer.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, have been taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  2. Peter does talk about the foundation of the world in 1 Peter 1:20, describing redemption in Christ, and in 1 Peter 2:13 he speaks of the role of human leaders as “creation” (usually translated “human institution”). He returns to Creation in 2 Peter 3 in a major argument concerning the second coming of Jesus. There God is the master both of the past and the future. What He has done in Creation is a sign that He controls the future and will bring to pass what He has promised.