“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6)
To humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God is the language of submission. It is the acknowledgment of God’s sovereign plan. It is an embracing of his right to be in charge. It is an awareness of his power. It is not prideful accusation of God’s decisions but humble trust in his wisdom. But God’s mighty hand is not only there to hold us in place under his rule. That same mighty hand, Peter says, will grasp us with his powerful grip and lift us up to a place of exaltation. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God. Why? There’s a purpose to this: So that at the proper time he may exalt you. There is a dramatic reversal in store. It won’t always be this way. But please note: there is a future orientation to this.
If there is something we are in need of in Christianity today, it is a theology of “the proper time.” The message of the Bible isn’t about “your best life now,” but your best life later. Much of Christian literature today is about how God wants us to be happy, how he wants us to be successful, how he’s there to help us accomplish our dreams. And we hear about this, and then we look at our lives, and they don’t match up. We need to a have theological category for eschatology—the doctrine of “last things.”
Toward the beginning of this letter, Peter set up this contrast: we are the ones “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:5-6). See the comparison? There is a salvation—a rescue, a deliverance—that will be revealed at the last time, the proper time. But now, for a little while, we are grieved by a whole slew of trials.
Peter’s ultimate reference point for the “proper time” is the return of Christ. That’s when God will make everything right. That’s when he will correct every injustice. That’s when he will restore the created realm. That’s when he’ll make his blessings flow far as the curse is found. That’s when we will live in a perfect world with perfect relationships in which we are perfectly understood. God will exalt us—then. Until then, we are humbled.
We have a broken marriage, and it’s humbling. We experience depression or emotional numbness, and it’s humbling. We lack deep and meaningful relationships, and it’s humbling.
And we look to God, and he doesn’t lift us out of the humbling position we’re in. So we give him time—maybe a few months, maybe a few years. But then we find that we’re still single or we’re still unhappy or we’re still lonely or we’re still over-weight or we’re still infertile, or we still have kids that don’t respect us. And that’s when we begin to get weird. In fact, that’s when we begin to get dangerous.
It’s like the claustrophobia effect. I don’t know about you, but if you put me in a small box, or you put me under a blanket and you hold me down, then I’m ready to kill you. I do not like it! And if we feel like we’ve been smothered by our situation for too long, if we feel like we’re trapped, that’s when we’re ready to act. That’s when we’re ready to the take things into our own hands, to come up with our own solution, whether or not it’s within God’s wisdom and boundaries.
Don’t be disillusioned. It’s not the proper time yet!
In the meantime, as Peter opened this letter, we are “elect exiles” (1:1). We are away from the homeland. We are wandering in the wilderness. We are pilgrims along the way. That is the characteristic description of this life, and, as Peter said in the last chapter, do not be surprised when you find that to be true! Now, this is not to say that God, in his mercy, doesn’t intrude into our circumstances with blessings that are a foretaste of the age to come. He does! Thank God, he does! God gives us previews. He sometimes lifts up our head just enough so that we catch a glimpse of the horizon of the New Earth. He brings healing. He brings restoration. He brings remedy. But not always, and never fully…yet.