2 Peter 2

With an online reading group I have been reading and studying 1 & 2 Peter. Two of the readings provoked a very strong emotional reaction in me — strong, sudden, and surprising. I thought I’d write a response to both events here to try and tease out what happened and why.

In both cases, the reaction didn’t come on my initial reading. With the reflecting perspectives between my reading, the reading notes, questions, comments, … I was being made to look at the Scripture in new ways, and finding it confront me in new and surprising ways.

The two readings were:

I’ll write about the most recent first:

2 Peter 2:20-22

[20] For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. [21] For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. [22] What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

(ESV)

These three verses are the last verses of chapter 2. The chapter is a unified whole and it felt as if the force of the whole chapter hit me with this last reading — especially the repulsive image of the dog returning to its vomit.

It’s a very angry chapter, and the anger builds. The anger is clearly aimed (on a calm and careful reading) at the “false teachers” mentioned in 2:1 but (a) in a way everyone is a “teacher” — each of us stands as an example to those around us, and (b) reading slowly a verse or two at a time, that context recedes into the background.

I increasingly read passages, and the anger, as being directed at me. For example (these are Revised English Bible):

2:10 Above all he will punish those who follow their abominable lusts …

2:12 These men are like brute beasts, mere creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed.

2:12 … They will perish like the beasts, [13] suffering hurt for the hurt they have inflicted.

2:13 … while they sit with you at table they are an ugly blot on your company …

2:14 They have eyes for nothing but loose women, eyes never resting from sin.

2:14 … God’s curse is on them!

2:15 They have abandoned the straight road and gone astray.

2:19 They … are themselves slaves of corruption, for people are slaves of whatever has mastered them.

2:21 Better for them never to have known the right way, than, having known it, to turn back and abandon the sacred commandment entrusted to them!

Looking back on the chapter from the end was suddenly very upsetting: the anger, the accusation (I have abandoned, I have turned back) even rejection (it would have been better for me never to have tried).

Well that was a fortnight ago and I have calmed down a bit. Reading now, from a distance, I can see Peter’s special anger directed at people who were leading others away from the light. That invites me to think about how I am leading people (mainly my son, I suppose) astray by my example or the things I say — and whether I can help lead people towards the light.

I also notice (or plead!) the difference between purposely abandoning the way, and falling or straying by accident or weakness. I sometimes think of sin as weakness, illness or confusion, while evil is a more conscious turn not just away but against the light. I am having trouble extricating myself from sin, but I don’t think I am evil. I think Peter’s anger is directed at people who are evil.

But … I had a very successful Lent, and I continued the regime afterwards as the “new normal”. In mid-May (just before the reading group started 2 Peter), I was away on business for a few days, and I *decided* to give myself a “break” from this new normal. I have been struggling to get back into it ever since. I turned away.

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