I have been reading through 1 Peter as of the last couple days, and the thing I’ve been coming across over and over is suffering. It’s not an uncommon thing for me or for any human being for that matter. Suffering is part of life for every human being on the this planet. And to be honest, one of my greatest stuggles with God, or with Christianity as a whole is this very subject, struggles. Why doesn’t our awesome God just fix it? He can do anything. When we read about Jesus’ ministry, He heals hundreds of people, feeds thousands, saves billions with his death and resurrection. So, “let’s do some of that now,” is my thought. However, I’ve yet to see me healed miraculously or fed miraculously. I guess what I’m getting at is this: why doesn’t God do miracles now? Why doesn’t He overcome struggles in our lives with miracles? Is that a selfish desire? I feel like it’s legitimate to some degree.
As I read 1 Peter, however, I cam across something interesting. “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19, NKJV). When I first read this, it didn’t mean anything. But, the second time I read this, I was perplexed: “let those who suffer according to the will of God.” What the heck? Suffering is part of God’s will? I’ve never heard this before. Peter says it fairly clear here in 1 Peter 4. We do suffer according to the will of God.
I meditated on this for a while. I wrestled with this. The church doesn’t teach anything about suffering as being part of God’s will. Yet, it says it here in 1 Peter. Thus, either I am wrongfully interpreting this verse and scripture or the church is missing something in its teaching.
I re-read the chapter over and over, and I got fixed on verses 12-14. I think they give us some insight into the mystery of verse 19.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. – 1 Peter 4:12-14, NIV84
I have been taught all my life that happiness and health and psychological wellness and comfort are God’s design. I like the thought of that, don’t get me wrong. However, looking across the world, outside my quasi-middle-class life, I see a lot of suffering. I see a lot of war, death, poverty, disease. And this world I live in is God’s design. Thus, the happiness, health, and comfort that I have been taught is God’s will for my life cannot be the paramount purpose of God’s will.
This is where verse 12-14 come into play. Peter says in verse 12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” Why am I surprised when trial comes my way? He says, “do not be surprised.” Clearly, he is implying, “it’s normal to go through suffering. Don’t be surprised by it. You will have suffering in your life.” Then, moving to the next sentence, verse 13, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” He says, “do not be surprised…but rejoice.” Interesting. I feel like we are so quick to fix the suffering. Sometimes, we fix it with drugs, or we fix it with food, or with sex, or with blame. The fact is we immediately try to alleviate and put an end to suffering. However, Peter challenges us to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ.” I can’t say I was happy to read this verse. I do not want to be happy about suffering. I do not want to participate in Christ’s suffering. However, to be honest, I do want the benefit of His suffering. I believe that Peter is telling us to be glad and thankful when we suffer; remember Christ’s suffering, what He gave up, what He did for us. As we participate in His suffering, the benefit becomes all the more amazing. And when the benefit becomes more amazing, the benefactor is so much more appreciated. As a result, our appreciation and admiration for the Lord is increased.
One final word, just a thought about suffering “according to the will of God.” If it was God’s will that His Son (who, in fact, is God in the flesh) would suffer, for it was according to God’s will that Christ suffered. Then, we (who are not God) are called as well to suffer “according to the will of God.”