Time can be a tricky thing. On the one hand, it seems set, mechanical, and permanent. Each second exactly the same length as the one before it. And yet, in our own experience, while the mechanics of time seem firm the feeling of time is fluid. Life hurries by, yet some days take forever to arrive. That’s simply our perception. Yet there is also Einstein’s theory that exposes the relativistic nature of mechanical time. There is a temptation to put the next step in our walk through 2nd Peter into a 21st century understanding of physics and chemistry. A temptation we are striving to avoid.
Peter declared, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:8–13, NASB95)
Earlier in Peter’s letter, he quoted the mockery of the mockers, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4, NASB95) In our verses today he answers them in two parts. The first is an explosive revelation that God doesn’t experience time in the same way we do. C. S. Lewis once explained that while we experience time as a horizontal line with one moment following another God experiences time vertically, all at once. We see that in Peter’s explanation of days and years. Time is not God’s master, it does not control Him like it does us.
The second explosive part of Peter’s answer is that God is slow for a purpose. A purpose which exposes His heart. God does not desire for any to perish but for all to return to Him. God is even delaying that day for the wayward mocker that deserves His wrath and judgment and desiring that they turn to Him. We can see that several times over in the Old Testament although we have to dig it out a bit. God delayed His judgment on Sodom, on the Canaanites, and others. While there are verses indicating it was so that their sin could be completed, so they could reach a point of no return I have to wonder if it wasn’t also because He also desired them to turn to Him. We see an example of that in the story of Jonah when the city Nineveh repented and God turned back his wrath.
The same applies to us today. Yes, it seems easy to look around and see people deserving, even begging, for God’s judgment. Taunting God to his face with their words and actions. Maybe you know some of them. God desires ALL, including them to turn to Him. But here is an important truth – we too are deserving of God’s wrath and judgment, everyone is. That is the power of Christ’s grace in which we now stand as believers and follower of Jesus. While deserving we are no longer subject to wrath and judgment because of Jesus. God delayed His judgment for you too.
Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water
It is important to shut off for a moment our modern day understanding of chemistry when we read Peter’s picture of what God’s judgment will look like. It’s easy to see a nuclear holocaust where atoms split and burn. Peter wasn’t thinking of the various elements of our periodic table such as helium, iron, and einsteinium but of earth, wind, fire, and water. Those were the elements of creation Peter knew. On the last day, the substance of the cosmos will be wiped away and replaced. John envisioned it this way, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:1–2, NASB95)
Often lost in all of this large-scale depiction of the last day in Peter’s letter is a simple question – what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?
Getting the Answer Right
What sort of people ought you to be? How we answer this question is important. If we remove it out of the setting it becomes either the legalism of manmade holiness or the false hope of man’s attempt to appease God, gods, or goddesses. The setting is God’s desire for all to turn to Him and escape the day of judgment. Does our conduct and the expression of God in our lives invite people to turn to God or repel them from Him? Granted, some folks are repelled no matter what we do. But that doesn’t let us off of the proverbial hook.
So, what is the answer? The answer is not found in a dress code or a code of religious practice. The answer is not found in the foods we eat or don’t eat. The answer is displayed in how we treat each other, the unity we strive for in Christ, the desire to observe humility towards all, our compassion for all including the “uns” of life (i.e. unlovable, undesirable, unwanted…), and our utter reliance on God regardless of the wounds, loss, and challenges of daily life.
We are to be people of promise and vision in Christ. Not only seeing and addressing the needs for today but looking beyond to the new heaven and new earth when all will be right. One day the end will come. When? I don’t know only God does. But we must never get so caught up in end times that we lose sight of the lost around us nor become so earth focused that we forget our larger purpose in Christ.
We will never right all the wrongs this side of the last day where sin reigns. But neither should we lose our patience and give up. We do have the answer, not a set of religious rules but a relationship with a gracious Father, good Shepherd, and insightful Holy Spirit. Laws (formal or unwritten) don’t fix people, only a changed heart can do that as folks turn to God and enter His kingdom.
God is not slow in keeping His promise but is patient, desiring all to turn to Him, to accept the Son, and to receive the seal of the Holy Spirit.