From Monday’s daily lectionary:
2 Peter 3:15a (2 Peter 3:1-18 is the full reading)
"Regard the patience of the Lord as salvation."
In this section of his letter Peter is talking about the coming of the Lord. When the Lord comes, he says, there will be fire from heaven, a loud noise, and the destruction of the godless. It will be the dawning of a new era, not unlike the destruction and renewal that took place with Noah’s flood, even if the special effects will be significantly different (and to think that children’s rooms around the world are decorated with images of Noah and the animals!).
Part of the problem, however, is that some in Peter’s audience are concerned that Jesus has not yet returned. Is He ever going to come back? This is a huge pastoral concern for a people who were expecting the immanent return of Jesus to inaugurate a new Kingdom on earth. After reminding his audience that for the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day, he attributes the Lord’s "patience" (what others might call delay) to a desire that all people come to repentance. This divine delay gives more people a chance to turn from sin and lead lives of holiness. "Not wanting any to perish," God will wait.
"Regard the patience of the Lord as salvation." I love that line. God’s patience is our salvation. God’s tender and expectant waiting is itself life-giving, hope-filled salvation. Turning on its head our traditional understanding of salvation as a free pass into heavenly eternity, this verse suggests that that salvation is not in a far away spiritual future, but now. Live lives of holiness now. Be godly now. Salvation is not about some future afterlife, but is about our life together now.
I used to hate such verses as works-laden hell-fire and brimstone talk, and surely an overemphasis on the punishment of the godless leads us into despair and hopelessness – for who is truly godly? But I see now the beauty in such verses, a rich calling to a life of selfless discipleship, peace, holiness and godliness. "Strive" Peter says. "Strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish." We may never achieve such peace, we may never be truly holy or godly, but there is a blessing to be claimed – and a glimpse of the dawning Kingdom to be seen – in the striving.