A couple weeks ago one of the teens jokingly told me (at least, I hope she was joking!) that I was an evil dictator. As it turned out, her comment fit right into the lesson, because I was talking about how we deal with authority.
Last night I built on that lesson some more. After welcoming the sixth graders (last night was the first youth group Bible study they were invited to attend), I started picking on one of them.
"Suppose I walked out behind the church, and I discovered that Marissa was out back there smoking a cigarette. Of course, I wouldn't be too impressed with that, since smoking is not just unhealthy, it's also against the rules. So I would probably scold her pretty good." (By the way, Marissa has assured me that she does not smoke, which I'm very glad of!)
"Now suppose instead that I didn't find Marissa smoking -- in fact, suppose that Marissa wasn't smoking at all, but Rachel came up to me and said, 'Doug, Marissa is out back smoking!' So I go out back and, without giving her an opportunity to speak or defend herself, start scolding and yelling at her. After all, I am an evil dictator, right?
"In one of those situations, I'm being completely fair and reasonable, in the other I am not. But how should Marissa respond in these two situations?"
This question is exactly what Peter talks about in 1 Peter:
It's not enough to respond graciously and with submission when treated fairly -- Peter says that the true test of your character comes out in the way you respond when treated unfairly.
And it gets worse...in the next verse (1 Peter 2:21), Peter tells us that we have been called for this purpose -- to bear up patiently under unjust suffering. The question is not: Will I be treated unfairly? -- that's just a fact of life. The real question is: How will I respond when I am treated unfairly?
Peter tells us that in bearing up patiently under unfair and unreasonable treatment, what we are really doing is following in the footsteps of Jesus, who willingly submitted to the most unfair and unreasonable of all punishments -- the cross of Calvary.
How often we say, "I want to be like Jesus," but we certainly don't want to be like Jesus in this regard! Instead, we are likely to respond to unfair treatment with anger and bitterness, instead of with love and forgiveness.
Last week I took my nephew to see the Movie Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. There was one section of the movie that made me think of a passage in 1 Peter.
If you've seen the movie, or a preview for the movie, you're familiar with the squirrel who, throughout the movie, is on a never-ending quest for the acorn. He tries and he tries to get that acorn, and meets with a variety of misadventures along the way. He never succeeds in getting the acorn.
But towards the end of the movie, the squirrel has a "near-death" experience, and finds himself at the gates of Squirrel Heaven. A place where the streets are paved (of course) with acorns. The entire scene is utterly silly and absurd (but also quite funny!).
The squirrel grins, and dances, and gathers up acorns, and feels more at home than he has ever felt back in the ice age. And then he sees it. The mother of all acorns -- a giant acorn to put all other acorns to shame. And just as he is about to grasp the giant acorn...
...someone back in the ice age gives him mouth-to-mouth, and brings him back to life.
That was one very unhappy squirrel, who would never again feel at home in the ice age.
In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter calls us "sojourners and exiles." The implication is that we are foreigners, that we do not belong in this world.
We are born into this world, and we feel right at home in this world, until we are given something different -- until we are given a taste of the grace, forgiveness, and love of Jesus Christ. And when we experience this love, we discover a citizenship in a world entirely separate from this place of trouble, this place of unrealized hopes, desires, and dreams. And once we have discovered that citizenship, we are forever spoiled for this material existence. We will never again feel at home in this world.
Sometimes Christians work very hard at "fitting in," and "belonging" in this world. But we are like that squirrel in the ice age: once we've tasted the goodness of God, there is no hope of ever truly fitting in again. We are foreigners and strangers to this world, whether we like it or not. And the healthiest Christians are the ones who come to terms with this notion that though we are now in the world, we will never fit into it.