1 Peter 4:12-13. 12 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. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:19. Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
Every Christian needs a theology of suffering (a sufferology). Do you have one? Yes, you do. We all do. It might not be great, but you DO believe something about all the pain and sorrow in the world, and all the pain and sorrow in your own life. A failure to understand suffering is probably the greatest obstacle to faith in God and the greatest stumbling block along the journey for Christians. Because we can’t make sense of suffering, we can’t make sense of God. And because we don’t know how to connect our own suffering to Christ’s suffering, we fail to make disciples of the cross.
So let’s see if we can’t begin to develop a Christian sufferology today.
What is suffering?
Our suffering is directly connected to our desires. We suffer when we lack something that we desire. We desire good health but are ill – suffering. We desire to be married but remain single – suffering. We desire to be single but remain married – suffering. We desire sexual expression but choose purity – suffering. Or, as in 1 Peter, we desire a peaceful and quiet life of faith but face persecution – suffering.
And so suffering is not only determined by our outward circumstance, but also by our inner response to it. In fact, the majority of our suffering is caused by our inner attitudes – how much we desire and how we respond to those unmet desires.
Why do we suffer?
When facing suffering we must always begin by asking “Why am I suffering?” And the answer is not simple. Suffering can be caused by simply living in a fallen world full of chaos and entropy (cancer, a tornado). Or suffering might be caused directly by your sin or rebellion (addiction, discontent). Or it might be caused directly by someone else’s sin (trauma, injustice). And suffering can (and will) also come from doing good (living out your faith).
What are some bad ways we respond to suffering?
Understanding how we respond to suffering is even more important than understanding the situation that is causing our suffering. Peter will talk about at least three poor responses to suffering in 1 Peter 4.
- Surprise (4:12): But exiled Christians, living in a fallen world, surrounded by the forces of evil, should expect suffering.
- Shame (4:16): But Christians facing suffering because of their faith in Christ will never be put to shame by God.
- Sin (4:15): Christians must be careful not to let their increased suffering lead to faith in God substitutes for temporary relief (money, sex, power, control, numbing).
Why is it God’s will that we suffer?
We almost can’t imagine that God’s top priority wouldn’t be to decrease our suffering. Isn’t that what love is? Ending suffering? Isn’t happiness the purpose of having Jesus?
But God is far more concerned with eliminating our sin and increasing our holiness. And the truth of the cross, is that the only way to deal with sin and bring about righteousness is through suffering. Resurrection only comes through the cross. Glory only comes through the receiving of grace in the midst of the pain and suffering.
So what is the cure for suffering?
The ultimate cure is, of course, the return of Christ and the establishment of all righteousness and justice on earth and the end of all sin both in and around us. In other words, the revealing of Christ’s glory.
But what about for today?
Remember what we said about suffering. It comes from what we desire. Unmet desires increase our suffering. So what is the daily cure for suffering? Eastern religions would say eliminate all desire. But Peter and Christ say the opposite – increase your desire. Find a greater desire for Jesus. For your heavenly Father. For his love and goodness. For his mercy and grace. As Peter says, entrust your soul to your faithful Creator.
But how? How do I trust God in my suffering? We must see all our suffering as a sharing in or a participation with the suffering of Christ. In yesterday’s reading we saw how Peter made the cross of Christ his example. His pattern for all of life. You see, Christ didn’t just die for us on the cross physically, and we didn’t just die in Christ one time spiritually on the cross. The cross is now our whole way of life. Jesus’ death is at work in us wherever we go and whatever we do (2 Cor. 4:12).
“To live is Christ” makes all our suffering a reason to rejoice. Not because we suffer, but because in suffering we can share in Christ. Share in his acceptance by God. Share in his friendship with the Spirit. Share in his courage. Share in his holiness. Share in his goodness and compassion. Share in his love. Share in his very life. And then, one day, share in his eternal glory.
What is your sufferology?
You in Christ
Why does being in Christ mean we must suffer?
Christ in you
How can you see all your suffering as sharing in Christ’s love and grace?
Playlist: Suffering with Christ