At the beginning of one of his sermons, the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard asks, what is the one thing we ought to wish for the people we love—a friend or spouse, a sibling or child? I’m sure many things come to mind. We would want for them success in their work or calling—although we know that our careers and endeavors go through ups and downs, cycles of struggle and prosperity. We would wish for them comfort and loyalty from a community, small group of friends, or late—although we know that inevitably there will be times of pain and disappointment at the hands of those who like ourselves, unsteady in love and loyalty. We would certainly want health for them, but we know about the weakness and unpredictability of the body, and that with the advancing years unhealth will come by degrees. Wishing all these things and more for those whom we love is natural, although we would probably also say it is emotionally draining, for there is so much we want for those we love, and our wanting is weighed down by the knowledge that hopes like success, health, and relational harmony will be only partially realized in the course of a normal life. But is there one thing above others that we should desire for those we love, that we should pray for, that would somehow draw up all these others things into it? Is there a one necessary thing, as Jesus says to Martha, when we love another person and see before them the uncertain landscape of life?
Trials of Many Kinds
The epistle of 1 Peter is a letter written to churches in several regions of Asia Minor, what is now Turkey. In this opening to his letter, he writes to encourage them, for he acknowledges in verse 6 that they are experiencing trials of many kinds– “many colored trials” as another translation puts it. Historians now think these were not yet the trials of martyrdom that would come to early Christians. Rather these trials were those that come with being “resident aliens”—“exiles” as Peter puts it—those whose commitment to Christ has made them outsiders in their towns, and those who may literally be living as foreigners—forced into exile from Rome that would regularly banish non-conformists to the remote regions of the empire like Galatia, Cappadocia, and Pontus. From the hints we get of these persecutions (1:6; 2:12, 15: 3:9, 16; 4:12, 16), they were probably experiencing suspicion, malicious talk, false accusations, and the frequent and personal social ostracism that would daily affect their social standing, opportunities for their families, their treatment by authorities, their ability to find work, and their future security. For a people suffering these kinds of trials, there is much to wish for. What, then, does Peter hold out to them? What does he want most for them? In a word, he calls it “faith”—that which in verse 7 he says is “of greater worth than gold.” Given how well money often works to improve our place in the world, that is quite a statement.
– Todd Pickett