September 18, 2008
by Patrick Lafferty
“...to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion...”
1 Peter 1:1
This morning, thousands of people still know what it feels like to be dislocated. A furious storm forced them to flee far from home in search of higher, safer ground. Now, truth be told, where they went is not much different from where they came from; likely, McDonald's and Starbucks still litter the landscape. But they can't get back to their homes right now. And even if they could, it would be some time before home would be truly home again.
These people are feeling, in some small measure, what it means to be an exile. Tens of thousands of other people in this world have likewise fled a fury of famine and war, and know exilic life all the more poignantly. For those who fled the Gulf Coast last weekend, their displacement inevitably creates disorientation.
When Peter addresses his audience as exiles, he employs a compact term with enormous significance for them. Peter's audience could not have been more isolated or disoriented. To Jews they were odious for believing that God became man and died on a cross. To Greeks they were laughable for submitting to but one God when everyone knew that a whole host of gods inhabited the cosmos. And to Romans they were potentially dangerous because they saw their Anointed One as supreme even over Caesar.
But Peter's decision to address his audience as exiles is not merely to sympathize with their isolation. To be an exile, you see, is more than just a status; it is an office. It entails responsibility as much as it elicits sympathy. That's why Peter refers to their identity as exiles three times in this letter alone (1 Peter 1:1, 1:17. 2:11). So what does it mean to live as an exile—as a follower of Christ in a world not yet in full submission to Christ?
Exiles are dislocated but not distraught. As Christians, they're far from home—in the sense of a place of rest, untainted by sin and all its effects. The way things are is not the way things are supposed to be. Corruption prevails. Children die. Noble plans are vanquished. But rather than allow the frustration this creation has been subjected to (Romans 8:20) lead them to rage or despair, they take heart in the fact that, as surely as things ought not be this way, so, too, things won't always be this way.
Exiles are discerning. They recognize that where they are has an insidious capacity to dull their interest in their true home. Exiles are not only wary of the misshapen messages their context sends; they look with care at its rhythms and priorities—lest they indiscriminately adopt what everyone around them seems to stake their lives and futures on. John Wesley, given the tour of an enormous plantation by its owner, was asked what he thought of the vast holdings he'd seen. Wesley replied, "I think you're going to have a hard time leaving all this."
Last, exiles are devoted. They recognize that the day of their repatriation remains undisclosed to them. They know that the culture in which they are immersed is often more conducive to self-indulgence than selflessness. But they will not simply retreat into their enclave of fellow exiles and live only for themselves. They heed the call of Jeremiah to the exiles of the Babylonian captivity when he said, "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jeremiah 29:7).
And what is the only adequate motivation to face our dislocation without becoming distraught, to discern the subtle diversions from what is holy, to devote ourselves to the welfare of our present locale? It's not "digging down deep" for strength. It's knowing that we are elect people—chosen from before the foundations of the earth, vouchsafed for eternity by the sacrifice of Christ, and bestowed with help from the Spirit for true obedience. Only by walking in the truth of our election will we find sufficient compulsion to live as true exiles.
So, reflect on two interdependent questions: Are you fulfilling your office as an exile? And is the grace of election what's compelling you to live as an exile?