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Hope Had Grown Gray Hairs
Before Christ, it was tempting to carnalize our celestial hopes; after the Resurrection, the temptation is to etherealize them.
By Joshua Shaw
The first Epistle of Peter is about hope grown up to adulthood.1 This hope, a longing to possess goodness eternally, is intrinsic to our condition. And so one old writer said, “the hopeless man is but a human-shaped beast.” The questions remain, how are we to hope and in what?
Though some may doubt the fact, to my taste 1 Peter brims with the foam and froth of Peter’s own beer—his personal character, both fallen and redeemed. Peter came to Christ with carnal hopes—hopes of an earthly kingdom. As a fearful, melancholic man, he had to learn to “commit his soul to a faithful Creator” (I Peter 4:19). He needed to learn the fear of God both in doing and suffering his Will (as in 1:2, “unto obedience” (active) and “the sprinkling of blood” (passive)). And so B. F. Westcott rightly says that “The first Epistle of St. Peter bears in every chapter the vivid image of Christ’s sufferings” (see esp. 4:1). In 4:19 (just quoted) we hear and feel a particularly poignant reminiscence of Christ’s last words: “into thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Beholding Christ’s sufferings in his own sufferings, Peter learned to put off his carnal hopes in taxes, swords, kingdoms, and oaths – in sum, his hope in men. For, “whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (4:1). As the antidote to our fear of man, therefore, he repeatedly urges the fear of God: “If you call on (God the Judge) as Father…. Spend the time of your exile in fear (of him)” (1:17). And for this reason he avoided, or tried to avoid, the converse mistake that a “glorified joy” might precipitate (1:8). Galatians 2:12, “(Peter) fearing those of circumcision,” is proof that it was a work-in-progress.
In light of all this:
Hope, says Peter, but maturely (1:13).2
Before Christ, it was tempting to carnalize our celestial hopes; after the coming of Christ and his Resurrection, the temptation is to etherealize them. It is tempting, in other words, to excuse ourselves – on the ground of our “freedom in Christ” – from obeying our unsaved husbands, masters, and governments (2:14 – 3:7).
To all such, Peter exhorts: submit to Creation. We’ll unfold the lessons here incrementally.
This word submit recalls for the reader two important biblical texts: Romans 13:1-2 and Genesis 1-3.3 More precisely, the words submit and creation4 lead us back to the source of Paul’s punning on the word “order” in Romans 13: namely, the creation story.5 Together they remind us of Genesis 1-3: as the sun rules the day, the moon the night, so ought man rule the beasts, and rule himself. So husbands rule their wives, parents rule their children, and all things submit to God’s vicarious rule through creation.6 Eve’s failure to rule “all creeping things that creep on the earth” is answered by Adam’s failure to rule himself and his wife. But this failure does not negate the goodness; the goodness of God’s order in creation is still there.
Peter prods us again: Submit to all human Creation (2:14).
Since the act of creation is only predicated of God in Scripture, we must therefore understand this adjective (human) as denoting not the agent but the beneficiary (see n. 4). Submit to Creation because it is (according to Peter’s logic) for us men. And so Peter not only recalls our place in the vast cosmological order of Genesis 1-3, but also probes us,
Hast thou not seen
how thy desires e’er have been
granted in what he ordaineth?7
This order is not just very good, but also very good for us.
What about that word all (or “every,” as it is in the ESV)? Surely, we feel and sometimes think, he can’t mean that. It is well and good to speak of the “goodness” of government in the abstract, but he can’t mean all that all signifies. He hadn’t heard of Hitler, we are tempted to add. He did, however, know a near second – the Roman Emperor Nero. And, indeed, he knew something worse than either: he watched, afraid, as this human creation unjustly crucified Christ, the only righteous man. In virtue of this experience, he ably anticipates our insubordinate feelings and pricks us a final time:
Submit to all human Creation for the Lord’s sake (2:14).
For the Lord’s sake. Submission is objectively good, and it is good for us; but it is also hard “to do without, take tosses, and obey.”8
Consider now that we are listening to the man who began to rebuke the Lord for telling him that the Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the religious leaders and die (Mark 8:31f.). Peter knew the sharpness of this call to unjust suffering and submission; hungry and thirsty for justice now, he had no patience for the Lord’s retort. Submission to earthly realities in light of our heavenly hopes might be natural and good, but in a broken world submission finds its sufficient ground and end only in the person of Jesus Christ,
who suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
Who descended into Hell.
In that last line doing and suffering become indistinguishable - this action, dying, an intrinsically passive experience, is described by the active verb, descended. Christ himself said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18 ESV). Christ overcame this dichotomy by his humble obedience to a faithful Creator.
Peter’s hope, through suffering, had “grown gray hairs;” it had, that is, matured, as he slowly appropriated the lessons of Mark 8:34f. – a saying aimed at Peter’s rebuke of Jesus just before – to pick up his cross and follow Christ. He learned that our call to glory (as in 5:10) is first a call to suffering (2:21). Hopefully, we shall learn as well, reading his Epistle and his life through the Epistle, and so grow a few gray hairs ourselves.
“To this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving us a pattern that we might walk in his footsteps” (2:21). First into death, then into glory.
He shall come again with glory,
to judge the living and the dead,
and his Kingdom shall have no end.
Joshua Shaw is a PhD Student in Early Church History and Classics at the University of Tübingen in Germany.
1. All references (when not otherwise noted) are to 1 Peter. Translations are mine unless otherwise noted, though often I approach the ESV.
2. Or “perfectly, completely”—Greek : τελείως (teleios) . There is debate about where this adverb belongs, but it signifies more when taken with “hope” than with “be sober.”
3. Greek: ὑποτάσσω (hypotasso)
4. This word, κτίσις (ktisis) is predicated in Scripture only of God (like (ברה (barah) in Hebrew, which the LXX translates—generally—with κτίσις and cognates). A plain example occurs even in this Epistle (4:19).
5. Order = τάξις (taxis), whose cognates are variously translated there—Rom. 13:1f.—as submit, order, oppose (rebel, resist), subject, etc.
6. The harmonious flourishing described in Genesis 1 is protected by the divisions which God repeatedly makes and secured by the governments installed—to that end (within one chapter) three separate Hebrew words for “rule” are used a total of five times.
7. From the hymn “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” (Lobe den Herren) by Joachim Neander (transl. by Winkworth) : see here for the full text and history.