After accepting an invitation to preach on the challenging and controversial text of I Peter 3:18-22 in the chapel service of a Christian high school, I knew I had a difficult assignment. Nevertheless, after spending 23 years of my life (one third of my life) as a student in one school or another, I have learned that trying to figure out difficult and demanding Scriptures is good for me. Such biblical passages make me think hard, work hard, and pray hard: “Lord, please help me understand what you mean!”
As I studied I Peter 3:18-22 I began to see how these five verses help us answer three of the toughest and troublesome questions of life:
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- Why doesn’t God do something?
- How do we overcome the bad things that happen to us and rise up within us?
Before reading and studying this text we need to keep in mind that Peter was writing to Christians who were suffering and struggling because of bad things that were happening to them. He was trying to help them answer such questions. Second, we need to pray: “Lord, as we read these five verses help us to be like a miner digging not for gold or silver, but for answers to these three questions. Now, let’s examine I Peter 3:18-22:
For Christ also suffered for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm. In that state He also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison who in the past were disobedient, when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while an ark was being prepared. In it a few – that is, eight people – were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now that He has gone into heaven, He is at God’s right hand with angels, authorities, and power subject to Him.
With these verses somewhat in our minds, let’s answer the Three Tough and Troublesome Questions.
Why do bad things happen to good people?
The first Christians who received Peter’s letter were asking this question: “Why do bad things happen to us when we are trying to be good, trying to follow Christ?” What does Peter say to them and us?
Let’s go back to I Peter 3:18 where Peter writes about how “Christ also suffered” and died at the hands of evil people. What happened to Christ is the most powerful reminder that there is something terribly wrong with the world in which we live.
Here, we have the most loving and self-giving Person who has ever lived betrayed by one of his closest friends, denied by another, and deserted by all but one of his other disciples. He is envied and hated by the religious leaders who were supposed to be the best of people. They knew God’s laws and how to live right in the sight of God. But, they didn’t live right and they did what was horribly wrong. They conspired to have Jesus the Son of God ridiculed and reviled, beaten and brutalized, whipped and stripped, and finally, tortured to death on a cross.
There is something terribly wrong with our world. The Bible has a little three letter word to describe what’s wrong: It is called sin and it afflicts each and every one of us.
Sin might simply be defined as self-centeredness that we see a two-year-old child and a cantankerous 92-year-old senior adult – and everyone in between. Sin not only messes up our relationships with God and each other, but messes up the health and wellbeing of our heart, soul, mind, and body.
Uncontrolled self-centeredness gives rise to such evils as undisciplined anger, bitterness, callousness and cruelty, deceit and dishonesty, envy, fear, greed, and hatred – all of which prevent us from bearing able to love one another the way God wants us to love each other: To think less about ourselves what we want and more about others and they need!
Peter reminds us how easy it is to be sinful, to be so full of ourselves that we disobey God and do whatever pleases us. He refers to the time of Noah (verses 19-20) when the vast majority of people chose to disobey God and do whatever pleased them come hell or high water. And they literally brought on themselves hell and high water.
Genesis 6:11 tells us that the world was “filled with wickedness.” It was so bad that God had to do something. Some of us may wonder why God doesn’t do something now!
That brings us to the second question which we will seek to answer next time.