Peter has much to say about suffering in his first epistle, and in my preaching through 1 Peter I am just beginning to reach the bulk of Peter’s words on the subject. So, my thoughts have been on the significance of suffering in the Christian life.
Though it may surprise the purveyors of a health-and-wealth prosperity gospel, the Bible teaches us to expect suffering as Christians. Here are just a few relevant passages of Scriptures, to which several more could be added:
“…In the world you will have tribulation…” (John 16:33)
“…through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
“that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this” (1 Thess. 3:3)
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12)
So, there is no promise in Scripture that, as believers in Christ, we can expect God to deliver us from pain and suffering in this life. Or that if we only have enough faith, God will take away our afflictions. The very opposite in the case: if we are Christians, we should expect to endure various trials and tribulations in this life. I don’t know what’s harder to believe, or more dismaying, that some so-called Bible teachers can – with a straight face – preach a message that God wants us to be free from all suffering in this world, or that so many people find this message plausible and take it to heart.
The truth is, God doesn’t promise to free us from affliction in this life, but he does promise to sustain us through it by his grace. And, he does give us the hope of an eternal glory where there will be no more suffering (Rev. 21:4). Likewise, though God doesn’t promise to give us an answer for why we suffer in the specific ways we do, he does promise to work out all things, even pain and sorrow, for our good (Romans 8:28). And he promises to comfort us in suffering (2 Cor. 1:4). What’s more – and this is a glorious truth! – Christ, who is himself God, experienced human suffering at the cross. Which means God is no stranger to our pain. Suffering produces painful questions (“Why am I suffering in this way?”) that must go unanswered for now. But in principle, in the cross, there is resolution to the problem of pain. Christ’s death and resurrection mean that, behind the suffering of the Christian, stands the wise, good, and gracious purpose of his sovereign God and Heavenly Father. The hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” puts it this way:
When through the deep waters I call you to go, the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless, and sanctify to you your deepest distress.
Suffering is hard enough to endure. But it seems to me, it would be infinitely worse to suffer with no hope that there is any redeeming significance to my pain. Thank God for his grace to “sanctify to us our deepest distress”!
In a future post, I hope to explore a bit more the nature of the suffering that is part of our calling as believers in Christ.