We Didn't Start The Fire

1 Peter 1:7 (NIV) 

7 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. 


We Didn’t Start the Fire 


Billy Joel’s famous 1989 song We Didn’t Start the Fire underscores the fact that people constantly blame other people for why things are the way they are. “We didn’t start the fire! It was always burning since the world’s been turning…” In other words, don’t look at me, I inherited this mess! The last boss, the last session, the previous administration, the former manager, tragic events, unpredictable circumstances, the economy, the jobs market, inflation… someone else left me a problem that I can’t be blamed for!


Since the beginning of time this has been a human tendency. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the snake. “Really God, we didn’t start the fire!” 


There’s an important story in the Gospel of John that relates to this human tendency to pass the blame. Jesus is going on his way in John 9:1 when he saw a man blind from birth. His followers asked him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 


Ah, let’s interpret: “Jesus, who is to blame here?” 


Jesus’ response is the turning point in a conversation that was burning among God’s people for millennia: why do good and bad things seem to fall randomly in life? Why do some very good people get very bad outcomes, and some very bad people relax in luxury and get an easy life? (Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and many Psalms deal with just this question). 


Do people deserve what they get? Is everything karma? (Are they themselves to blame?) 


Are people all victims of some great supernatural powers? (Is the satan to blame? Is God to blame? Did the devil make me do it?) 


Is everything random and meaningless? (Is everything a cosmic accident? Is everything due to social situations and powers that have grown beyond our control?) 


No, Jesus’ response cannot be boiled down to mere karma, supernatural oppression, or random chance. Jesus responded, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:3) 


For Jesus, God’s salvation is on display in big ways and small ways all through life and on into eternity. God delivers the oppressed, sets captives free, calls people to himself, remits debts, forgives sins, restores sight, raises the dead… on and on the ripples of God’s saving presence affect the world. For Jesus, the blind man’s misfortune is not forever, nor is it a sign of God’s departure or disfavor; in time he will see and his seeing will result in God being seen. 


Jesus then says, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 


Jesus wanted to shine a spotlight on God. He wasn’t concerned in this moment with where to lay blame, but simply that God be noticed for bringing about healing. Jesus wanted to reveal God, who the disciples could not see because they were focused on blaming. He came to shine light. 


This must have resounded in the life of Jesus’ close friend Peter, who learned the spiritual art of looking for God’s presence in dumpster fires. Years later he was writing to a bunch of suffering Christians that had been scattered around the world by persecution and misfortune. We have his letter to them. When reading a letter, it is wise to remember that we have one side of a conversation and it’s easy to make assumptions. It seems safe enough to say, however, that they may have been wondering who to blame for their misfortune. They were likely discouraged. 


Has God abandoned us? 


Is it Ryan’s fault? Did Ryan start the fire? 


We can imagine what it might have been like for them because we do it as well. We wonder if misfortune is a sign of God’s anger, his punishment, his absence, or his non-existence. We look at each other with suspicious gaze; we wonder in our hearts if we are betrayed. 


To these suffering Christians Peter says what he learned from Jesus, “These trials have come so that your faith may be proven genuine.” He understands that the fire is raging. He reminds them that fire purifies gold, and their faith is more valuable than gold – “it will result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7) Gold can’t buy praise for God, but refined faith can. It’s as true today as ever, our neighbors and our brothers and sisters in Christ are not impressed by our budgets, programs, and buildings, but faith that endures the fire is an inspiration to all and brings praise to God. 


Today’s blog is just a short word of encouragement. None of us started the fire. The problems in life and in our neighborhoods and in our churches and in our homes are complex beyond belief. We will never rest if we seek to inventory all the blame. There is a time for blame and a time for judgment and for justice. So, I’m not suggesting that we just gloss over everything in life. 


But just for today I want to invite you to look, in whatever fire you are enduring, for how it will result in glory, praise, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.