Commentary on 1 Peter 1:3-9
This text reminds me of a song my grandmother sang.
The lyrics, in part, are:
I don’t know about tomorrow, I just live for day to day;
I don’t borrow from the sunshine, For its skies may turn to gray.
I don’t worry o’er the future, For I know what Jesus said;
And today I’ll walk beside Him, For He knows what lies ahead.
Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand;
But I know who holds tomorrow, And I know who holds my hand.1
This song expresses the simultaneous feelings of anxiety and hope that many of us have felt and likely are feeling right now. We are anxious as the world is changing before us in ways that we did not anticipate and do not clearly understand and, for the most part, are out of our control. The uncertainty of the near future, however, is overshadowed by the blessed assurances knowing that Jesus knows the future, holds the future and holds our hand. That is, Jesus is a companion in our suffering.
The audience of 1 Peter seems to need these same assurances. Although scholars debate the extent to which the readers of this letter are experiencing suffering (ranging from state sanctioned persecutions to being ostracized or rejected by their communities), it is clear that their suffering is challenging their faith. In these few verses we understand something of the past, present, and future. The writer asserts that the audience had been given a new birth and a living hope (past). Their inheritance (future) is currently being protected by the power of God, even if now they have to suffer for a little while (present). Their past and present trials should serve to strengthen their faith. This is not to say that suffering is necessary to produce genuine faith. It is simply an acknowledgement that trials can reveal the beauty of our faith (just as fire reveals the beauty of gold).
I think that the Buddhist understanding of suffering may be instructive here. Buddhism teaches that suffering is a universal human condition. There is a cause to suffering, a way to bring about an end to suffering and perhaps most importantly, knowing that suffering has an end. This is an oversimplification but also an important acknowledgement that surely trouble doesn’t last always. For the readers of 1 Peter, past and present, the way to bring the end of suffering was accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hope of the resurrection is a living hope. This living hope is made possible through the new birth that has been given to the believer through the mercy of God.
What is a new birth? Whether it is the life that bursts forth in the spring as the flowers bloom and the trees blossom or a mother delivering a child, birthing elucidates an entanglement with life and death; old and new; perishable and imperishable. The word, anagennesas, though translated as new birth or born anew can also be rendered as “having begotten” or “regenerated.”2 The writer may be emphasizing the renewing of the living hope that God has given us. Renewal and regeneration are not one-time events; they ongoing processes. Therefore, when we feel challenged by difficulties, our faith reminds us that our living hope can be renewed.
At a recent event that I attended a young lady, a college student, was giving a presentation before a large crowd of professionals. She began her presentation and was clearly nervous. It was not going as well as she had perhaps planned. She stopped, took a deep breath and said: “Let’s try that again.” This young lady went on to do a phenomenal job and was affirmed with a standing ovation. I do not know what happened in the mere seconds between that statement and her starting over, however, when she did start over she had a command over the material that was not previously apparent. Her confidence in herself became more and more clear. For me, this incident serves as a reminder that there will be times when we simply need to start again. There are times when it is necessary to pause in the midst of our stressful situations and say, “let’s try that again.” In these moments, the genuineness of in our confidence, in our faith may also be revealed. In fact, every day we are presented with an opportunity for renewal and regeneration.
The writer reminds us that we have been given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection activates a living hope. Perhaps at no other time in our lives have we needed a hope that is alive than we do today A hope that can animate us and allows us to seek the light in darkness, to hold onto what we know to be true when everything seems questionable. Hope is kept alive by nurturing it; it is sustained by looking beyond tomorrow to a promised future, remembering that we have an inheritance that is not only awaiting us, but that is also being protected. Faith in Jesus Christ makes this all possible. According to Hebrews, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Connecting faith and vision has long been a part of the Christian tradition. Recall the words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29b). Hope is a state of expectation; it is to be pregnant with an anticipation. And though faith is concerned with what we cannot see, hope provides us with sight beyond what we can see. In spite of our current circumstances, our suffering or our anxieties, the resurrection of Jesus still fills our lives with the possibility to ignite our hope and renew our faith.
Ira F. Stanphill, “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow,” lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc., Capitol Christian Music Group.
This term is used again in 1 Peter 1:23: “You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”