By Craig Tally
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The Apostle Peter is well-established as one of the most recognized and highly regarded of the original twelve of Jesus’ disciples.
Recently we took a look at the Apostle Peter’s lapse of faith at the time of the arrest of Jesus. We examine this very low point in his life not with secret delight in someone’s failures, but rather to seek more understanding about these kinds of experiences and to draw help and encouragement for our own benefit.
If this can happen to Peter, how much more likely is it to happen to me?
So what happened to Peter? How do we describe what happened? What are we to make of his experience?
Some would describe it in terms of a catchy saying I first heard during my days in seminary -- “The faith that fizzles before the finish was faulty from the first.” Did Peter’s faith fizzle out? Was Peter’s faith faulty from the first?
Or is there a better way to talk about what happened to Peter? Certainly, Peter’s understanding of God was limited, as is ours. We humans do indeed “see through a glass darkly.”
But does this suggest a fault? I think not. To be human is to have a limited ability to see eternal matters.
How might we talk about this in less judgmental terms? Rather than saying Peter’s faith was faulty, perhaps we might describe it in terms of a “misplaced” faith.
In order to fully grasp this idea, we go back to an earlier, recorded experience of Peter’s. It was then that the stage was set for Peter’s failure of faith at the time of the actual arrest scene.
That Peter was a person of faith is beyond question. He listened to those who had gone before him and considered their story. He looked deep within his soul; he looked beyond to the heavens and earth, and saw what, to him, was the reality of God.
This faith of Peter’s became misplaced when it became his idol. By this I mean to say that he formed a mental image of God that was as fixed as though he had carved one of wood. In his mind, he understood God so clearly that he forgot that we humans see eternity as though we are seeing “through a glass darkly.”
Peter knew God so well, or so he thought, that in his mind there was no way God would allow the cross. This explains Peter’s actions when he drew Jesus aside and rebuked Him, saying “Never! This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 17).
Check out the response of Jesus. True faith always allows room for God to act, free of our expectation. When this is forgotten, faith becomes misplaced. When faith becomes misplaced, disappointment and disillusionment become a distinct possibility.
That is what happened to Peter when Jesus was arrested. Things began to unravel. Peter’s world came crashing in on him. Surely he wondered where God was. His expectations about what God would and would not allow were not being realized.
Fear, doubt and disappointment took control of Peter’s thinking. His faith was over-powered. His faith became temporarily “misplaced” in the same way you and I can temporarily misplace our eyeglasses. Just as our eyeglasses are not useful to us when misplaced, so was Peter’s faith not useful to him at that moment.
But only for a moment, as it were. When Christ came calling, Peter found his misplaced faith and went on to become a central figure in all of Christendom. Always, God comes calling, and His purpose is not condemnation, but restoration.
Craig Tally is the senior minister of First Community Church in Joplin. His column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.