Don't be Surprised by Suffering2
The first thing Peter tells us is that we shouldn’t be “surprised” by suffering. Continue reading . . .
The first thing Peter tells us is that we shouldn’t be “surprised” by suffering. Here is how he put it in 1 Peter 4:12-19.
“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. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:12-19).
In other words, if you are going to respond properly to suffering and even learn to grow from it and deepen in your relationship with Christ, you have to develop a solid and Scriptural theology of what suffering is all about. Suffering, says Peter, is normal! It is standard fare for the believer. It is to be expected.
Remember: Peter is writing to a predominantly Gentile audience who would have experienced little if any suffering prior to coming to faith in Christ. Unlike a Jewish believer who knew a lot about suffering and oppression, Gentile Christians would have regarded suffering as a strange and inexplicable misfortune, wholly out of place and inconsistent with the promises and blessings of the gospel.
But if that is true, what is the point of it all? Why does God orchestrate my life in such a way that I have to endure the insults and abuse of unbelievers? It is, says Peter, “to test” us (v. 2b; see 1 Peter 1:6-7. See Psalm 66:10; Mal. 3:1-4).
Here is the NIV rendering of v. 12 – “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” The purpose clause “to test you” is completely left out and thus fails to communicate why Christians should not be astonished or embittered with suffering.
Suffering is “not a sign of God’s absence, but of his purifying presence” (Tom Schreiner, 219)! Suffering for Christ in some form or degree is essential to the formation of Christian character.
Suffering is not an imperative. It is an indicative. We are not told to seek it or pursue it. We are simply told that it is a given.
It’s critically important that you not react with surprise when either you suffer or you hear of someone else who has. If you do not grasp this truth, your instinctive response will be to shake an angry fist in God’s face and scream out: “Where were you when that missionary in Liberia died of Ebola trying to help those who are afflicted with it? Where were you when that godly Christian man lost his job because he refused his employer’s order to cover up an illegal transaction? Don’t you care? Didn’t you see this coming?”
By all means weep with those who weep. By all means experience righteous anger at those who unjustly oppress Christian men and women. But don’t let the onset of suffering, no matter how intense or prolonged it may be, throw you into confusion or doubt or shock or uncertainty about the goodness of God.
People often ask me what practical benefit there is in affirming and believing in the absolute sovereignty of God over all of life. That’s it!
To be continued . . .