Elect Exiles?: The Role of Suffering in 1 Peter 1 (Part 1)

What we were about to do was not exactly legal. It was late at night and we were a small group, but nonetheless we had to huddle quietly on the floor, below window level, and pray. It still amazes me how strong the faith of these people was and yet how hostile their country was to the gospel itself. It was as if their suffering was fueling their faith! 1 Peter 1:1-2 tells us that such an explanation isn’t all together wrong. God uses suffering and difficulty to build up his people.

These two verses are packed with deep theological truths. And if we will take the time to careful study and examine them we may just yet find hope in our trials. The verses read as follows:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,  2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

A breakdown of the passage will help us to see more clearly the amazing content packed into two, seemingly just introductory, verses.

First, Peter acknowledges that he is writing to a group who are exiles. The residents of these various cities in Asia minor (modern day Turkey) were all being driven from their homes and scattered across the empire. They were running for their lives, hiding, and relocating to protect themselves and their families. What is perhaps more surprising about this dispersion is that Peter calls these exiles “elect.”

If ever there is a hated word in the Christian subculture its “election.” It’s like telling people that Nicholas Cage is going to reboot the Left Behind series. It can spark either a cult following, or pure hatred. But the term itself is found in Scripture so you have to address it. At its most basic core, the word “election” refers to God’s choice to save some and not others (though how God makes that choice is hotly debated). It is not my interest here to deal with election, but rather to observe that part of God’s choice for these people involved suffering.

Notice that they are elect exiles. God has ordained their scattering; their suffering, leaving home, being hated and rejected in their cities, is part of his plan. They are exiles “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” The word “proginosko” (foreknowledge) refers to a predetermined intention. It is not simply prior knowledge of events, but more akin to planned events. It’s the same word used in Acts 2:23, where Peter testifies:

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

The crucifixion was God’s plan from before the foundation of the world, it was predetermined, not just known prior to its happening. In 1 Peter the suffering of these exiles was part of God’s predetermined plan too.

Why would God do this? The answers are found in the text of 1 Peter and as we continue to unpack them I hope to offer some potential relief to the tension this creates, though no one can completely remove it. But for the moment consider that God is behind the trials and sufferings you experience. Consider that the sovereign Lord of the universe is involved in every detail of your every day. I fully appreciate that such a revelation can create real frustration, disappointment, and even anger towards God. But there are times too where such a realization can generate some hope.

You see we don’t serve a God who saw your suffering and wished he could do something about it, but simply couldn’t. Neither do we serve a God who saw your suffering and ignored it, as if he didn’t care. Rather we serve a God who, through his own mysterious ways and without being responsible for sin, orchestrates our suffering. He certainly orchestrated the sufferings of at least one man in history: Jesus! This doesn’t make all our pain and heartache go away, but it can give us the glimmer of hope we desperately want in those moments. Hope that even while we suffer God has not abandoned us nor found his hands tied. He loves us and even this experience he can use for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28).

Friends, consider the “elect exiles” of 1 Peter. Consider all that they endured and all that they lost, and consider that it all happened “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” And consider that God may be orchestrating your own trial, and dwell on the hope that such a revelation can provide.

(Image via corecommunity.org)

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