Saturday, April 18, 2009

Suffering: 1 Peter

(Note: This is a paper I wrote for my Bible class that very strongly affected me. I have never posted a paper before, but I am doing it only in the hope that it may encourage you as much as it has encouraged me.)

George MacDonald said, 'The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” It is easy to find ourselves believing that because Christ endured the shame of the cross, our lives as Christians should be pain-free. But our worlds come crashing down when difficulties overwhelm us and we find ourselves crying out, “Why?! If Christ has redeemed us, why is life so painful?” In his first letter, Peter writes of Christ’s sufferings and reminds Christians that, not in spite of, but because of redemption, we are to partake in these sufferings. As difficult as it may be, we can see our suffering in light of God’s plan for humans in history, and can cling to the knowledge that God’s faithfulness will allow us to persevere to the end.

Peter begins by saying that Christ’s sufferings were not a surprise; they were prophesied of long before he was born into this world. His sufferings were planned and they were necessary as a means of grace (1:10-11). In chapter two, Peter expands on this idea saying, “Christ suffered for you” (vs. 21) and then refers to Isaiah 53 to show what this suffering looked like. It was foretold by the prophet Isaiah that Christ would be a “man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (53:3). Christ was purposed to suffer for our sake, it says. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” Not only this, but Christ suffered in silence, patiently enduring the cup that had been given to him. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth” (53:7). This was done that we might be saved and so we might have an example.

Christ’s suffering is to be a picture for Christians, “that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pt. 2:21). Peter’s encouragement to Christians about how they should suffer makes it clear how this is so. Just as Christ endured suffering in silence, so we too should bear suffering knowing it pleases God (2:19). Christ suffered “though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Is. 53:9), and so too should Christians be willing to suffer for righteousness. Peter says that it is not worth anything to suffer for doing what is wrong (2:20), but “if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (3:14). Christ shows us that suffering will seem unjust; in fact, that very nature of true suffering is a seeming unfairness. We should not be “a murder or thief” in order to suffer (4:15-16).

Isaiah 53 also says that “it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,” which is echoed in 1 Peter 4:19 when Peter speaks of “those who suffer according to God's will.” We are to bear up under suffering because God wills it for our good. It is never an accident or something that “just happens.” It is something we are called to (1 Pt. 2:21) and something we should expect (4:12). This is because suffering, although usually afflicting our body, has spiritual effects. Christ’s suffering was a means of our salvation; our suffering is a means of our sanctification. “[H]e who suffered in his body is done with sin” (4:1).

This is why Peter also reminds Christians that their sufferings are temporary. Suffering is just “for a little while” (1:6,10). These earthly sufferings do not last forever, and we have something much better, something eternal, that we hope for. This reflects Christ’s example, for Isaiah said, “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied” (53:11). Our present, fleeting suffering promises a greater reward. Not only this, but we suffer for the glory of God. Peter commands Christians to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (4:13). We should be glad to suffer as our Savior did. He suffered for us; now we suffer for Him – for His sake and for His glory. And we know that, by the grace of God alone, we too “will share in the glorification to be revealed” (5:11). Our sufferings are not forever and they are not in vain. We suffer as the body of Christ: in union with Him and with Christians around the world (5:9), clinging to an everlasting hope.

This hope that we have pushes us to persevere. Peter says those who are suffering “should commit themselves to their faithful Creator” (4:19). In the midst of our suffering, we turn ourselves over to the One who is faithful, and are comforted knowing that He will see us through to the end. Oftentimes, we see suffering break people’s faith, and it is frightening. But we can trust that God knows those who are His, and those who have been saved by the blood of Christ will ultimately be saved from the trials of this world. If we are truly saved, our suffering will be a proving and refining of faith, and we will persevere. God will not let anyone slip out of His hands. Even when it seems like our lives are in shambles, we are His, and we will always be His. Though we suffer, “through faith [we] are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:5).

For these truths of Scripture, I am overwhelmingly grateful. These past two years, I have felt a greater awareness of suffering than I ever have before, and I am confident this awareness will be ever-increasing. I feel as though my life has been sheltered from any real suffering, but I am forced to watch those around me lose loved ones to drugs, to death, to atheism. I ache with those who are in pain, and it is hard to trust that this pain is somehow for their good. I long to see my brothers and sisters in Christ sanctified, but it is so difficult to watch them live out the Christian’s calling and “participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Pt. 4:13). And all the while I know that this is my calling also. I do not feel as though I am suffering now, but Scripture clearly says I will. I pray that God will make me willing to suffer. Right now, I am scared to undergo persecution or pain, but I know that it will not be my strength that will enable me to endure.

This past fall, my Resident Director, Jennifer Uwarow, told me she believed God had been preparing her as she grew up, through her mom and the things she read, to suffer. A week and a half later, Jen was told that cancer had come back into her body for the third time, and three months later, she died. I wept for Jen and I ached for her husband Pete, but the truths of 1 Peter have never been more visible to me. I saw very real suffering in their lives, but still they clung to Christ. And I knew when Jen died that her temporary suffering was over; she was with her Savior and filled with everlasting joy in His presence. I know God preserves those who are His, and I trust that He will carry me, as He did Jen, over whatever He has in store for this life. All the while, I will sing, as Jeremy Camp does, “There will be a day with no more tears, and no more pain, and no more fears/ There will be a day when the burdens of this place will be no more; we’ll see Jesus face to face.”

1 comment:

Peter F. Uwarow said...

This was very good, thanks