A Survival Kit for Personal Hell

Our identity often becomes the first casualty of our pain.

It’s early—at least for a vacation day. I’m in a forest, standing on a trail cushioned with pine needles. No sounds of civilization intrude here—no swoosh of traffic, no planes, no sirens. A gauntlet of towering trees crowd either side of my path.  Their trunks creak, moved by the caress of gentle winds. It all feels so epic. If it weren’t for my silly cargo shorts and sandals, this could be a film shot from The Lord of the Rings. 

I pull a sweat-softened copy of the New Testament out of my pocket and find 1 Peter 1:1-2:

¹ Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, ² according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:   May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

This letter was written to people in a faraway land long ago, and yet it also talks to me in these early morning woods.  I too am elect, chosen. It feels passing strange that the creative genius responsible for this forest panorama chose me.

That’s a claim many of us have a hard time wrapping our minds around. Personally, I don’t have a history of being chosen for things. I remember junior high school when the team captains would pick sides for flag football. The numbers melted away as the captains chose the players they wanted—eight…seven…six…five…and finally, the only two left would be me and some nerdy kid who picked his nose and wore coke bottle glasses.

And that kid would be chosen ahead of me.

My new team would inherit me by default, and the Captain would swear under his breath, looking down at the ground as though the universe had cursed him. In ancient Sparta boys like me would have been thrown over a cliff. Ah, the trials of adolescence. I was clearly not used to being selected as part of a star lineup.

I have no better experience being picked by accident, either. Some people do. They win raffles and lotteries on a regular basis. I’m beginning to wonder what would happen if I filled a drawing bowl with entries that only had my name on them. Would the Master of Ceremonies still manage to pick me?  I doubt it so strongly, I won’t enter drawings anymore. There was a time at a church cake walk when the music stopped and I ended up sitting in the winning chair. I won a pineapple upside-down cake. But since I sneaked in without paying the entrance fee, I got disqualified. My sister told on me.  That sums up my history of being chosen.

But now I’m told by no less than the New Testament that God has picked me.

Huh?

I take another look at these sentinel pines, the sloping green earth, a gigantic pastel blue sky. I have even less to bring to this team than I did the one back in junior high school. I’m guessing—no, hoping—that you’ve felt this same surreal kind of wonder. You’ve been chosen according to a criteria that doesn’t include speed or intelligence, charm, or beauty. It’s a wisdom that couldn’t care less about wealth or achievement or prestige. God wanted you, irrespective of what caused others to want or reject you.

Peter’s writing does a good job of inspiring me out here in these peaceful woods. I have to remember though, that he never intended his epistle for Christians on vacation. He penned it as part of a survival kit. The believers who first read it were in the grip of localized persecution.  Their pain had moved them to feel deserted and unwanted.  Peter’s letter doesn’t specify the exact details of their suffering, but we can guess what it might have been like at a time before our modern day religious rights and freedoms, when anyone with a rash could call open season on Jesus followers.  The weapons of choice would have come from the standard arsenal of slander, threats, and physical violence. 

And so Peter’s introduction, which might be read over in silence by Christians enjoying a cabin retreat, would have immediately caught the attention of the faithful who were smarting over recent injuries.  It would have acted as an ID of sorts, reminding them of who they were—the elect, the chosen of God—and as such, a privileged people.

This same prompt is meant for all of us whenever personal hell strikes. We dwell upon the glory of being chosen so when affliction appears, we won’t get so punch drunk we throw away our true identity and assume lesser ones.  It’s so we won’t succumb to the suggestion that our faith is naïve. Or that we are actually alone in a purposeless universe run by a dispassionate God.

The truth is, you’ve been chosen. That knowledge is an essential part of the package meant to save your life.

What an irony—a survival kit that works better at home than it does out in the woods.

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