Holiness as a Living Hope
In my search for the meaning of holiness, I find the Apostle Peter's words in his first letter encouraging. He speaks of our Christian existence as a "living hope." These words remind me of a time when I was a youth just out of college starting off on a mountain expedition. My carefree confidence in my body's strength and endurance seemed to have no limit and could take me anywhere. Setting off alone to climb Mount Rainier with no mountain experience, I started down the trail bursting with excitement to climb my first glacial peak. I carried my sleeping bag and gear in a jury-rigged backpack. I had a couple of days worth of food, an ice axe and clunky old crampons. I was blind to failure. As a dreamy youth all I could see was ice, snow, rocks, sky, sun and freedom at the top of the mountain.
As I entered the wilderness, open to adventure some twenty years ago, the feeling that welled within me mirrored in a special way what I now know to be like the "living hope" that Peter describes in his letter. This hope is not all that unlike my youthful blind confidence. The main difference is that I now have the confidence of faith.
As misguided my adventure was, I entered into God's creation and unless our hearts are impenetrable, he teaches us through his creation. He teaches us by inspiring awe through the incredible perfection and beauty of his creation.
In the beginning of his letter Peter tells the faithful to be holy and love each other deeply, because in our great joy we are thankful to God for his mercy. He explains that through the suffering and resurrection of Jesus, we have been saved and born into a "living hope," the fruit of which is a great and glorious inheritance. Before I get back to my story, let's read the passage from Peter's letter.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you.
1 Peter 1:3-25
I love those two words in 1 Peter 1:3, "living hope," which have also been translated as, "great expectation" and "hope of life," for not enough Christians realize in their heart that their faith is alive, so much so that their faith is a living person. A living hope beckons. A living hope endures. A living hope leaps over obstacles and is lighter than air. We are children of the light after all. A living hope focuses the eye of our heart on our true destination, who is Jesus Christ. Unlike the confidence of our youth that is formed from perishable desires and brings some young people to the edge of death and beyond, Peter explains that our living hope is born of imperishable seed, our resurrected Jesus. All Christians should exist daily in this living hope, but few do. It is most certainly an "inexpressible and glorious joy," as Peter describes our faith. Yet, Peter also explains that we will suffer, but through our suffering we will be proved ready to make it to the top of the mountain of faith, who is our beloved Jesus.
On this first trip of mine up Mount Rainier, the weather was glorious, the meadow flowers were vibrant and a hanging glacier set my bearings for my first night's destination. Every so often, I'd grab a handful of the coarse, cold snow to refresh me as I hiked for hours, relentlessly upward. But at about 10,000 feet my test began. I would be proven one way or the other. I started getting an intense headache and felt nauseous. I was getting altitude sickness. I've found in recent years that I almost always get sick when I hike above 10,000 feet. Even if I spend days at that elevation I never get to feeling very chipper. At those heights, the world for me, however beautiful, is always a dull, grey blur.
When I got to Camp Hazard just below where the real climb begins on the southwest corner of the mountain, I had had enough. My confidence was gone. My 'living hope' had died. Rather, I was in a state of living death. The evening was falling upon the mountain. In the myriad of valleys connected half-light below, the shadows were lengthening, the forests in the prevailing sunlight were warm with green in the evening sun. But I could no longer see the beauty. I could no longer think rationally. Darkness descended.
It seems that the opposite of a living hope is a living death and so many people live much of their lives in that state of existence—or at minimum in waves of highs and lows. The vision we get of our present condition and future existence becomes dark and weary as life's burdens press down. We may even hope and long more for death than life itself. How many of us Christians live this state today, longing to die and go to heaven, rather than to live in that living hope now? Yes, Peter explains that we will suffer, but suffering in faith can be one of deep joy as dark as it may seem on the surface.
Being the summer in the Pacific NW, the evening light lasted for hours. But my eyes could not rest in the beauty of the glow as the evening horizon faded from evening orange in the west to night-shade blue in the east. I could bear the throbbing in my head no longer, so I packed up my rickety gear and glissaded down the snowfield. Within a few short minutes, I had slid and tromped down a few thousand feet of snow and rock. Already, I was beginning to feel better. I camped under the stars on the cold snow and awoke sore and defeated after a long uncomfortable night's sleep.
I had been defeated by my youthful exuberance and I descended the mountain back to the parking lot. I was able to enjoy the beauty of the descent. The meadows aglow with avalanche lilies and buttercups, the marmot whistles warning of my approach, the soaring hawk and the delicious smells of subalpine firs quieted me. Though I did not know at the time, when I am quieted, when I am humbled, then God can step forward. My endeavors will always be perishable, but God's creation, his word and his glory will pass the test of time. Peter proclaims this when he quotes Isaiah and explains that "All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever."
We must ingest this living hope, our Jesus, so he fills our every pore. He is more refreshing than a snowfield on a hot summer day. When we live in this hope we become holy. Peter echos God in Leviticus when he urges us to "Be holy, because I am holy." But holiness is not something we can do on our own, like climbing a mountain. We must set our compass on Jesus, only then can we be holy, because we are on his flanks. We shine holiness from his alpenglow, not ours. But we still have responsibility on the holy ground of Jesus Christ. Peter explains that we are made holy, "purified" as he calls it, by being alert, sober, obedient, not conforming to evil desires, and by loving "one another deeply, from the heart."
If I had made it to the summit of Mount Rainier on that trip, the glory would have faded. I can only barely conjure up those memories now. I still hike in the mountains. I love to see God in his creation. I love to take people there and fellowship with others among the peaks and solitude. But ultimately, we are required to retreat from those perishable youthful highs, whether it be because our bodies become frail or our minds become cluttered. When we seek glory for our own sake, we end up seeking a living death rather than a living hope. Peter explains that the end of faith is not a summit, it is the "salvation of your souls." Unlike a mountain high, our living hope carries us to an everlasting relationship which the love of God in Christ Jesus.