When have you faced a fiery trial, and what was the outcome?
The second letter of Peter was written to members of the church who were being led astray by false teachers who denied that the world would be brought to its conclusion by divine judgment. Peter took a strong stand against these teachers, saying, “Don’t let it escape your notice, dear friends, that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day” (2 Peter 3:8).
Peter wanted his friends to see that God’s timeframe was not the same as a human timeframe, and that God had an agenda at work: “he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives” (verse 9). Christians should continue in their faith and good works until the day of the Lord comes “like a thief,” said Peter. “On that day the heavens will pass away with a dreadful noise, the elements will be consumed by fire, and the earth and all the works done on it will be exposed” (verse 10).
In the 1990s, Reynolds Price, a professor at Duke University, received a letter from a medical student named Jim. The student had been diagnosed with cancer, and he wrote to Price for solace since the novelist had published a faith-inspiring account of his own recovery from spinal cancer. The young man had a simple query: “Dear Dr. Price: I want to believe in a God who cares ... because I may meet him sooner than I had expected.”
Price then wrote a short book called Letter to a Man in the Fire, in which he honestly and compassionately responded to the student’s request for consolation and spiritual insight. Although he could not explain the mystery of suffering, he said, “What I assert with no serious doubt is that our one universe was created and is maintained by a single divine intelligence who still exists and continues to oversee his primeval handiwork.”
Like Price, the apostle Peter was writing a letter to people in difficulty. And what both writers tell us is that God is powerful but unpredictable, sometimes quick to act and sometimes patient and long-suffering. God is able to reveal himself clearly, but also in mystery; willing to soothe our hurts, but also to let us learn from our mistakes; capable of judging decisively, but also lavish in his great and unexpected mercy.
God is with us in the face of any fire, not wanting us to perish. Instead, God gives us time to change our hearts and lives. When we discover that God’s timeframe is not the same as ours, we can consider “the patience of our Lord to be salvation” (verse 15). In difficult times, we can trust that God’s loving agenda is always at work.
Lord, when problems arise, help me to trust your perfect timing. Amen.