A friend recently confessed political views in her church are so tense and divided, she can’t bring up political issues with her fellow Christians. A member in my own church asked me if it was okay to not call himself an evangelical at work because he’s concerned people will draw the wrong conclusions. Many people I talk to are reluctant to evangelize for fear of losing their jobs. Cultural shifts are happening so rapidly, it’s easy to feel disoriented in our own society, within our churches, and even with God.
Although the details were different, the Apostle Peter wrote to people facing similar challenges. He sent a couple of letters to Christians from across five diverse regions who were experiencing dizzying cultural disorientation. His letters are saturated in wisdom for times like ours. Perhaps the most important piece is this: cultural disorientation is an opportunity to re-center hope.
It’s easy to slip into hoping people will accept us or our views. We often go to considerable lengths to make sure people think being Christian doesn’t mean being weird, “You should come on Sunday, there are a lot of really cool people there.” Or we may avoid gospel conversations altogether. But shouldn’t being holy make us stick out a bit in an unholy culture? When cultural relevance becomes dear, we compromise our hope. Peter steers clear of this impulse to soften Christianity with the hope of cultural acceptance.
He also steers clear of cultural dominance, a posture more assertive and critical, more prone to attack or withdraw than to appease. When our hope slips into cultural dominance, we tend to get heated in political conversations, rant on social media, and subtly hope the government will become more like us. Sensing this temptation, Peter writes: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless” (1 Pet. 3:9). He heads off a domineering, tit-for-tat attitude with an exhortation to bless those who call us names or show us evil.
So how do we move toward blessing others amidst the confusion?
Whenever we get lost, we’re told to find a landmark, a star, a street name, something familiar and fixed, and work our way home from there. To re-center, we must fixate on God’s call to be exiles of hope.
Biblical hope is neither passive nor aggressive; it does not strive for cultural relevance or dominance. Instead, it operates on a different plane. It steps out of the cultural moment, refuses to be defined by it, and tries to view everything from the “eternal moment.” Peter writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:3–4).
Peter expresses hope sometimes in an event, other times in an age, but always in a person: “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Jesus came from the future into the present, bringing some of heaven with him, to secure a resurrected future for us. In Jesus, life climbed out of death . . . and we climb out with him, with hope for a whole new world. So how does re-centering around this hope alter the way we respond to those around us?
The Difference of Hope
Immediately, Peter says our hope affects how we suffer: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1:6). When our hope is recentered in the risen Christ, we can rejoice in trials of all shapes and sizes. If the conversation gets tense around politics, we need not grow angry and embittered because we share a joyful inheritance in Christ’s future and just rule. However, we shouldn’t avoid uncomfortable debate either, knowing that our hope compels us to bring some of heaven to earth now. Viewing our work from the eternal moment, we can risk disapproval by sharing hope for a just world in Jesus, while also laboring towards one.
Resurrection hope also reframes intense suffering. When my mom was in the emergency room, dad saw her flatline. The nurses were shouting, “Stay with us!” Dad kept thinking, “No, she has so much more to do, not now Lord.” Then, mom’s pulse came back. As my parents struggled through this trial, I asked mom how she was doing. Her response wasn’t to comment on her progress but simply to say, “Your Dad is being a great help to me.” When I asked my dad how he was responding to mom’s mortality, he confided through tears how much the whole event put him in touch with his love for her. They’ve been married over forty years, and yet, suffering together they uncovered new depths of love for one another.
Suffering with Christ, not apart from him, will guide you into new depths of his love. When hope is recentered in Jesus, suffering aligns us with the Savior and frees us to bless the world.
Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv and ThM, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is the lead pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas, where he lives with his wife and three children. Dodson is the founder of GospelCenteredDiscipleship.com and author of a number of books.
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Publication date: September 28, 2017