Peter refers to the past lifestyle of his readers, which he describes as ‘the futile ways inherited from your forefathers’. What does he mean by this description? His readers were probably mainly Gentiles although there would have been some Jews among them. Although there were many distinctions between them, the outcome was the same – their lives were marked by futility. Both groups were religious, yet their worship was futile because it did not bring them near to God. Both groups had a rich background culturally, yet it not provided them with liberty because they were enslaved to the Roman Empire. Worse still, both groups were enslaved to the power of sin and the ethical understandings from within both groups could not provide a way of escape for them.
Peter appeals to their personal awareness of such pointlessness. He asks them to recall for a moment what life was like. They had realised before their conversion that the life they were living was futile, but that was an assessment made out of disappointment. Yet Peter asks them to look at their past from a different perspective, from the point of view of someone who has tasted the real thing. Before conversion, they knew they were going nowhere no matter how longstanding and illustrious the past seemed to be; now they had a better viewpoint, and Peter says, ‘Look at your past from the heights of grace rather than only from the depths of frustration.
It is not only Peter’s readers who had lived lifestyles marked by futility. Emptiness is written over every thing of modern life. There are many benefits in the world and I am not decrying them. We can travel, we can have important work, we can collect valuable things, we can have all kinds of interests, yet we have to admit that satisfaction and meaning is not found there. One of the best books to ask contemporary people to read is the Book of Ecclesiastes. Its author tasted power and pleasure, yet after having it all he concluded that all was emptiness.
How can we escape from such an environment? By ourselves we cannot, because not only are we frustrated, we are powerless. We are both hopeless and helpless unless someone comes to our aid. And Peter asks his readers to remember the One who did come to rescue them.