In 1487 the Portuguese explorer Bartoleme Dias was the first European to sail all the way to the southern tip of Africa. When he arrived there, he found a peak that juts out into the water and called it “The Cape of Storms.” Sailors and navigators have had many terrifying stories of the storms in that area ever since. This is still true in modern times.
Dias had first-hand experience of horrific storms, so when he returned to Portugal, he told King John II about all the ferocious winds and waves. As the king listened, he saw another possibility in this new knowledge: he saw the possibility of sailing around this cape to India. He renamed it “The Cape of Good Hope.”
A week after the resurrection, the Disciples were still frightened about what might happen to them. They found themselves huddled together behind locked doors (Jn 20:26). All they could imagine were stormy days ahead.
And today in places throughout the world: North and South Korea, Ukraine, the Central African Republic and the Middle East there are people huddled behind locked doors. The only future they can envision is filled with escalating violence and the possibility of mounting death tolls.
Even if we have not found ourselves physically behind locked doors, I know many of us have found ourselves behind other kinds of doors where we have huddled in fear:
• Some have lived in abusive homes where the pain is so great they find themselves emotionally shutting out the rest of the world.
• Some have buried a spouse and in their grief have found themselves frightened by the tasks that the spouse once performed – whether that was mowing the lawn or paying the bills or cooking meals.
• Some have survived a serious motor vehicle accident and for a time are afraid to ride in a car.
• Some have heard the words of a doctor about a debilitating disease or condition that has caused fear to reign in their lives.
• Some have had their homes invaded by strangers and jump every time they hear a door creak. We all know people who have experienced these things even if they’ve not happened to us personally.
Conventional wisdom has it that if we have somehow avoided all these things, then we are lucky or blessed, but Peter says that it’s the rest of us – the ones who have experienced suffering and fear – who are the ones who are blessed.
Peter has written this Epistle to scattered Christians who are suffering persecution. In fact, some scholars believe it was written while Peter himself was imprisoned and awaiting his death. And still he speaks of hope. The same Peter who denied Jesus while he was on trial and lived in fear of being arrested shortly after Jesus was raised from the dead.
Somewhere between Jesus’ death and his own death, a dramatic change occurs in Peter’s life. Somewhere between Easter Sunday and the day he wrote this letter, Peter found an experience of new birth and a living hope (1 Pet 1:3).
What did NOT change were the circumstances of his life. There were still disappointments. There were still times when he faced opposition. There were still times when his life was threatened. But somehow, he found strength and victory in the circumstances where he had found weakness and defeat before. It would have been easy for him to look at the storms at hand and continue to live in fear – just as Dias did at the Cape of Good Hope
It was also possible for him to look at his circumstances and pretend nothing was wrong or things could be worse, much worse – which is how a lot of people try to console other people who are suffering.
Peter chooses instead, to face the obstacles of his life and grow through them, to allow God to use them for his own benefit. He doesn’t suggest that God brought these trials into his life to make his faith stronger, but instead offers the suggestion that when trials come we find our faith is tested.
Peter is talking about real life obstacles, not training obstacles. These are not set up for us to strengthen our faith like a military obstacle course, these are obstacles that reveal our readiness to face life and trust God to give us the victory on the other side – whether that “other side” is in this life or in the next life.
I once buried a man who was an avid poker player, and in his suitcoat pocket, he wanted to have a Royal Flush, which is the best winning hand a person could ever achieve while playing poker. His family explained that he had only had a couple instances of having been dealt this hand during his lifetime, but that he wanted to be buried with the Royal Flush hand to remind himself and his family that where he was going, (to play poker in the presence of God), he knew he would always be dealt the winning hand for all eternity.
Peter believed that, too. He knew there was something much better beyond the current difficulties. He may not have been able to see it or even imagine it, but he knew it was there.
Like King John II, who knew there was something beyond the Cape of Good Hope – something that was proven ten years later when Vasco da Gama made the first successful trip by sea from Europe to India. Hope springs up when we stare a challenge or difficulty right in the eye and still manage to cling to the promise of resurrection. It was true for Peter and it’s still true for us today.