Transforming Suffering [Hope Eternal #3]

Hope-Eternal---MM

Read: 1 Peter 1:6-9

There comes a time in the life of every child when they realise the power of questions.

Why is milk cold?

Why is grass green?

Why is their air?

Why can’t I see it?

Why can’t I touch the sky?

I found one article recently which claimed a typical 4yr old could ask 400 questions a day, while a typical mother can field over 200 questions from her children. I found that hard to believe, but it was in Brisbane’s Courier Mail, so maybe we can take it with a grain of salt.

Even so, we never lose the capacity to ask why. It’s just that the questions become more serious and probing.

Why are relationships so difficult?

Why am I suffering with this cancer?

Why can’t I be happy?

Why do my friends reject me for being a Christian?

We can be sure Peter’s readers wondered why they were suffering. But the thing that catches our attention is that as they asked that question, they were also rejoicing:

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1:6, NIV)

How did they hold these two things together? How can you rejoice while you suffer?

Suffering Purifies Faith

Peter says there are three reasons. First: they can rejoice because suffering purifies their faith

“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. …” (1 Peter 1:7–8, NIV)

In biblical times, gold was purified in a furnace. Heated to great temperatures so impurities would be burned away. It was a harsh process, but it left a beautiful result. If they wanted pure gold, this is what had to be done.

If you want faith that is pure, suffering may well be part of it. It’s a harsh process, but God assures us it will leave a beautiful result. Peter wants these Christians to see their troubles in this light.

Do you seek a strong faith? A beautiful faith? A pure faith? In some ways it will come through the crucible of pain. It’s an extreme process, but it delivers a beautiful result.

Church history bears this out. Around the time this letter was written one particular Roman Emperor, Nero, hated Christians. He persecuted them. Punished them. Made a public spectacle of them. There are accounts of Nero illuminating the Vatican area with Christian human torches. He used Christians for blood sport with wild beasts. He was trying to kill the church. And you know what they say, right? If you don’t kill it, you make it stronger. Well, Nero did not kill the church. He just made it stronger. The faith of these Christians was purified in the furnace of trial and persecution.

Something else: look at the words

“…for a little while you may have had to suffer …” (1 Peter 1:6, NIV)

The original indicates their suffering was necessary because it happened under the sovereign hand of God. This tells us the universe is not operating at random. We do not believe in fate, or luck, or karma. We believe in a moral universe and a loving God who holds us and our world in his hands. We trust a God who restrains evil so it cannot swallow us and our world completely. And in his sovereign rule he also allows trouble and trial so we become a strong and healthy church with a vibrant and muscular faith.

This is what we understand by the providence of God. It’s not that things will always be good, that we’ll get what we want, or that the green grass will grow all around. Rather, for his own glory, God will give us what we need to accomplish his will in our here and now.

27 Q. A. What do you understandby the providence of God?

The almighty and ever present power of God

by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven

and earth

and all creatures, and so rules them that

leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and lean years, food and drink,
health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—

all things, in fact,
come to us

not by chance but

by his fatherly hand.

Think of Job: his suffering came from the evil one, but only in accord with the limits God imposed.

Let me be the first to admit: there is deep mystery here. So rather than try and figure out this relationship between a sovereign God and a world of pain, we should recognise the limits of our understanding, note that our great God is sovereign, that Christ has all power, and that we are ultimately, eternally, and actually safe in his hands.

So, yes, we rejoice that through suffering and trial God strengthens our faith.

Transformation by Faith

Secondly, we can rejoice because faith transforms trials in two ways. One: our faith in Christ gets us seeing trials differently.

Suffering, of course, is painful. But we look beyond it to God’s great victory. We see this in Jesus, don’t we? In the garden he experienced such pain that his sweat was like drops of blood. He was deeply grieved that his disciples could not discern the burden he was carrying. But he still prayed ‘Not my will, but yours be done’.

The next day he was whipped to within an inch of his life. A crown of thorns was jammed on his head. His hands and feet were nailed through to the beams of a cross. He was hung there to die an agonising death.

Was he happy? The question itself is offensive. And yet we read

“let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)

The joy set before him was his coming victory over death. So he scorned the humiliation of the cross. His faith in his Father gave him a different perspective on suffering.

Joy is not dependent on circumstances, is it? That’s why these Christians can respond to suffering in such a surprising manner. Their joy is not based in their circumstances. Their faith, or should I say, the object of their faith – Christ’s victory over all – allowed them to rejoice despite their suffering.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” (1 Peter 1:8, NIV)

Secondly, faith transforms trials because through them Jesus changes us. Suffering teaches lessons about the nearness of the Saviour which cannot be learnt in any other context. Think of Psalm 23: How will we know his powerful right hand will lead us and hold us and guide us, if he never allows us to walk through the valley? How will we know that Jesus actually prays that our faith will not fail, unless we feel the sifting of the evil one?

These things are hard for us to hear, but they are true. And because they are true, while they are hard, they do us good. Faith changes how I see my trials. And faith allows me to learn more about Jesus’ loving care.

Saved through Faith

Finally, these Christians can rejoice in times of trial because they know how the story of Jesus ends. Through all our troubles, we know Jesus Christ will vindicate his people

“These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7, NIV)

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8–9, NIV)

We know this because our eternal inheritance is guarded by God. In suffering our mind goes to heaven. Some will scoff at this as ‘pie in the sky’. Karl Marx said getting the poor and broken to think about heaven turned faith into an opiate. Something that stopped people from addressing injustice on earth. Peter would never say that. In fact he says something quite different.

Faith in heaven should make us good and and godly citizens.

  • They are to have attitudes that display Christ’s rule in their lives (2:1)
  • They are to live good lives among the pagans (2:12)
  • They are even to submit to human authority – even to people like Nero. By doing good they would silence foolish and abusive talk (2:13)
  • Slaves has to serve their masters as though they were Jesus
  • Marriage and family would become a context of Gospel transformation, instead of a context of domination, inequity, and abuse.

Christians must not use thoughts of eternity to neglect their world. Rather, being saved for eternity they seek to live eternity’s values in their here and now. Their hope is fixed in one enduring reality:

“…you are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8–9, NIV)

This hope is what gave the early church such strength! Writing after both Nero and Caligula, the apostle John writes of the great victory which will be won by the King of Kings (see Rev 7:9-17)

These people were victorious because they were washed in the blood of the lamb. This is critical: if you’re suffering, the only way you will endure is to claim the ultimate victory of Christ on the Cross. That’s when every force was defeated. That’s when the evil head of Satan was crushed. That’s where life was won!

And ultimately, the really big deal is not about us, it’s that the glorious Lord, Jesus our Saviour, is glorified for the rescue he has won! Honoured for the world he has redeemed. Lifted up for the injustice he has banished from the face of the earth. Worshipped because he has borne our iniquities, carried out sorrows, and drawn us through his spirit into everlasting life!

“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7, NIV)

Friends, faith is purified in the context of trial. Faith in Jesus changes how we see trial, and becomes a context for us learn new things about his loving grace and care. And faith points us to the great day when Christ shall be all in all, and every tear will be wiped from our eyes, every pain will end, and every injustice made right.

“Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”” (Revelation 7:12, NIV)

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