Exiles: Life on the Margins

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Scholars agree that we live in a Post-Christian cultural moment. Christianity is no longer at the center of society, but is pushed to the margins. Christians are no longer a majority, but a minority. This means that Christians no longer feel at home in this cultural moment, but instead feel like aliens, exiles, and sojourners. People once came to pastors for advice, looking to them as spiritual authorities. Today, people look to bloggers, life coaches, and therapists.

All this cultural change creates a collective angst among Christians. Some feel like if they speak louder, then they’ll be listened too. Others say we need to simply withdraw from cultural engagement and focus on our interior life.

So what are we to do?

That’s why Peter wrote his first letter to the Christians in Turkey. “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). Their physical situation was a little different from ours.

Karen Jobes, a brilliant biblical scholar, points out their physical situation in her commentary. Rome typically colonized areas of their empire, sometimes forcibly resettling people groups on the basis of religion or some other reason. The one rule is that the dispersed people could not be Roman citizens. Peter is writing to a people who feel like strangers and exiles because they are physically living in a strange land. These Christians are being marginalized (not necessarily persecuted) by their society, alienated in their relationships, and threatened with losing honor, power, and prestige — all for their faith in Jesus.

Yet Peter uses their situation to drive home a point about the Christian faith. He subtly sends greetings from Babylon (1 Peter 5:13), evoking the Old Testament memory of exile. Peter sees himself as an exile, perhaps living in Rome, writing to exiles. His whole point is that we are following Jesus Christ into exile.

This is why Peter is so relevant to our lives today. We know and feel that our cultural moment is rapidly changing, impacting the church and other things we can no longer assume. But if Jesus is the one who is leading us into exile, that means there are awesome and incredible opportunities before us. Not only can we survive on the margins, we can thrive there.

“He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.”
W.H. Auden,For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio

In the coming weeks we are looking to 1 Peter to both follow Jesus into exile, where we will see rare beasts and have unique adventures, and discover a great city that has expected our return for years.