Meditations for Troubled Times
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” (1 Peter 5:6)
The Pax Romana was a period in Roman history beginning with Augustus Caesar in the 1st century BC. It was a time where regional wars subsided, the empire expanded, and there was a general improvement in the standard of living throughout the realm. This period was a time of prosperity and peace. In fact, Pax Romana literally means “Roman peace.” For Peter and those receiving this letter, however, there was anything but tranquility during this period. They were enduring persecution and hardship. Followers of Christ have always faced troubles like this, and it is no different today. There are still adversaries and adversities coming against the people of God. How are we to respond to them? Scripture gives various answers, and 1 Peter 5:6’s instruction is to react with humility.
In our secular society, we are sometimes maligned for the faith. We are ridiculed for our sexual ethics. We are branded culturally repressive and anti-intellectual. In addition, we face rising COVID-19 cases, uncertainties over what the next few months hold, and relational strife that makes life difficult. To all these troubles and many more, Peter exhorts us, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God.” One way to apply this instruction is to remember what your sins warrant. You deserve a lot worse than the things you are experiencing now. Cancer and conflicts are hard to bear, but it could be that you get what your sins deserve—condemnation. Be grateful for the grace you have received in Christ, know that whatever troubler or trial comes your way is less than you merit, and seek to grow.
In fact, Paul says that we are to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4). The things that war against us and weary us, God uses to bring maturity. Given our sins, we’ve earned much worse than infectious microbes and instability in society. Yet, the Father, in his mercy, sent the Son to squelch hell’s flames for us. He sent the Spirit to take events associated with the curse of this world (think particular persecutions and general afflictions) and use them to sanctify us.
Furthermore, Peter says, at the proper time he may exalt you, and when he uses the subjunctive “he may exalt you,” he’s not making it conditional upon God. He’s not declaring, “The Lord will perhaps exalt you if he wakes up on the right side of the bed.” Rather, the conditionality is dependent upon whether there’s humility. The mighty God will, one day, lift low persons from their depressing and difficult circumstances. However, right now, you might feel tormented and taxed given your situation. One response is to humble yourself, knowing that your sins merit far more difficult experiences, namely divine judgment. But God in Christ thankfully took this punishment for you, and now he uses the struggles of life to advance you in righteousness while you wait for him to graciously exalt you. The question is, “Are you seeking humility? Are you imitating your Savior, who made himself low to save you?”