We are drawing to a close of the summer blockbuster movies. I admit that I’m not such a big movie fan, but I do enjoy a good (mostly) action movie now and again. What is interesting to me is the obsession from time to time with movie themes- the vampire thing (creepy), the horror motif and even the strange “alien” flick. Hollywood runs the gamut from government cover-up/conspiracy alien films, to even comic alien stories. It usually ends up with the aliens are in some way a danger to the planet, or are just trying to blend-in since their planet is no longer inhabitable. So, you might see why I was taken aback when I was studying my Bible recently and I considered this little word in scripture. (The KJ uses: strangers. The NKJ says: pilgrims. The ESV: elect exiles). Nonetheless, the word is parepidēmos from “para,” meaning proximity and the base of “epidemeo.” But, basically, it is: an alien alongside, that is, a resident foreigner: - pilgrim, stranger. Yep, an alien. The word is used to describe those who are Christians. Yep, I am a Christian, but have never been called an alien either. But, you know it makes sense. Peter begins his letter of encouragement to those who are suffering persecution in the early years of the church in I Peter by saying: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: may grace and peace be multiplied to you.” (I Peter 1:1-2). But, in this small verse, just a little greeting, an introduction, so much is said about aliens, strangers, and pilgrims. In this letter, many were fleeing from persecution and intolerance for their beliefs and living as strangers in foreign lands, physically. But, these aliens weren’t just “foreigners.” There was something even more different about them. Peter explains them as “sanctification of the spirit,” or one how is pure in spirit, and obedient to Jesus Christ. So, these were people who were considered followers of Christ, but they were even more alien than just obedient, they were “sprinkled with the blood” ( Is 53:7, Acts 20:28, John 1:29, ) and were, therefore, especially then…weird, odd, different, some called them crazy, even a cult.
It was a tough time, people were dying, or tortured for Christ. So, it might seem odd considering the discouragement that those who would read this letter that Peter would chose to call them aliens, strangers and pilgrims; even remind them of their “oddness” or “weirdness”. Wouldn’t it bring more comfort to them to help them feel less odd, and more “normal” or just like everyone else, to assure them that they aren’t the strange ones; that it isn’t them? I mean, today that seems to be the goal, right? To not feel weird, or strange, or different- to allow our children, or ourselves to be involved in activities that does not glorify the Father, or is not worthy of the Savior (Eph 4:1, 5:8,15;Col 1:10, )- because well, we want our children to be “normal.” It is hard to dress “oddly”, say no to what everyone else is doing, to be the “strange” ones. It would be so much easier and even happier at times, right? Peter reinforces this again when he calls the readers aliens a second time in second chapter and they are in a war in which aliens are the target: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles (or aliens) to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (v. 11).
This book has been called “an epistle from the homeless to the homeless."1 In most Hollywood “alien” films the alien ends up longing to go home, where they aren’t so weird, aren’t threatened and shot at and can relax and enjoy being just like their fellow aliens. So, I wonder about how those who received this letter of comfort felt when they read this letter calling them aliens, reinforcing their strangeness. Perhaps it sounds harsh? unkind? Yeah, not really. I think those, just like today, who aren’t too short sighted to see the heavenly home wear the name, “alien” proudly.
1 J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter