Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 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 honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 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. (New International Version)
One of my favorite stories is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It’s a story of grace and new life. The main character is Jean Valjean, who spends nineteen years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. The experience in prison caused him to become a bitter man.
By the time he is released, Valjean is hard, angry, and cynical. Since ex-convicts were not treated well in nineteenth-century France, Jean Valjean had nowhere to go. In desperation, he seeks lodging one night at the home of a Catholic bishop, who treats him with genuine kindness, which Valjean sees only as an opportunity to exploit.
In the middle of the night, Jean Valjean steals the bishop’s silver and leaves. The next day, however, he is caught by the police. When they bring Jean back to the bishop’s house for identification, the police are surprised when the bishop hands two silver candlesticks to Valjean, implying that he had given the stolen silver to him, saying, “You forgot these.”
After dismissing the police, the bishop turns to Jean Valjean and says, “I have bought your soul for God.” In that moment, by the bishop’s act of mercy, Valjean’s bitterness is broken.
Jean Valjean’s forgiveness is the beginning of a new life. The bulk of Victor Hugo’s novel demonstrates the utter power of a redeemed life. Jean chooses the way of mercy, as the bishop had done.
Valjean raises an orphan, spares the life of a parole officer who spent fifteen years hunting him, and saves his future son-in-law from death, even though it nearly cost him his own life. There are trials and temptations for Valjean all along the way.
What keeps Jean Valjean pursuing his new life is mercy. Whereas before, he responded to mercy with a brooding melancholy and inner anger, now – after being shown grace – Valjean responds to each case of unjust suffering with both mercy and joy, deeply thankful for the chance to live a new life full of grace.
Suffering and joy. They, at first glance, may seem to be opposites. Christianity views suffering as an occasion for joy, and not just empty meaningless grief.
Followers of Jesus imitate their Savior through walking in the way of suffering. These sufferings are trials to our faith and the means by which our faith is developed, used, and strengthened. Just as gold is refined by being put through fire, so our faith is refined and proven genuine through the purging fires of life’s trials and troubles.
Walking in the way of the Lord Jesus, adversity is our Teacher, helping us to know Christ better and appreciate the great deliverance from sin, death, and hell we possess in Jesus.
Adversity has a positive effect of making faith genuine. Every generation of Christians must come to grips with faith. Belief is not only a matter of confession with the lips; faith is also proven primarily through suffering. So, we must walk-the-talk, as well as talk-the-walk.
Faith is like a new car – it is meant to be occupied, used, and driven – and not to only sit in the garage and be admired. A car is meant to be on the road, and if it does not perform well, we say it’s a lemon and we get another car.
Cars are the vehicles getting us from point A to point B. And, hopefully, we enjoy the ride without being frustrated and having road rage. It is unrealistic, as drivers, to believe we will never have to drive in adverse road conditions. We know it is silly to believe the weather must always conform to our driving habits.
Good drivers are good drivers because they drive a lot and have driven in nearly every road condition there is. Mature Christians are those followers of Jesus who live their faith each and every day and, since they allow their faith to take them places, have seen all kinds of adversity, trials, and suffering along the road of life.
They have learned through all their troubles and trials to enjoy what God is doing in their lives instead of being frustrated and have faith-fury. Such Christians have the confidence they are receiving the goal of their faith, the salvation of their souls. They understand their faith grows and develops as they face the challenges of life every day with a firm commitment to their Lord Jesus.
There are times we feel overwhelmed by our circumstances and wonder how to get through them. Yet, no matter what happens, we still love Jesus and believe him, even though we don’t see him. Like Jean Valjean, we keep living our lives with joy knowing that mercy shapes our lives with purpose and meaning.
Peter could praise God because his life was transformed by the grace and mercy of Jesus. Peter went from an impulsive and fearful fisherman who denied the Lord three times, to a confident and courageous witness of Christ because he was regenerated, restored, and renewed by grace. He joyfully endured suffering and opposition because his faith was precious to him.
There can be a tendency for many Christians to show a flat and staid attitude through the trials of life – trying to keep a stiff upper lip and endure. However, taking the approach of “It is what it is” only works for so long.
Eventually “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” is a more appropriate response to trouble. It is precisely during those times when human hope fades that we rejoice – even though the rejoicing is through tears – in the living hope kept for us.
This gracious inheritance of hope is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. That means we can live through a difficult day or week or month or even, dear God, a year or longer with spiritual endurance. We can persevere through a worldwide trial of pandemic. We can do more than survive – we can thrive through having our faith muscle stretched and strengthened. We are not alone. We all suffer together.
Our shared value of the risen Christ is the fuel that keeps our car of faith running. It is what transcends the stoic attitude of unfeeling endurance to a joyful flourishing of faith.
Eventually, suffering will have done its work and we will be with Christ forever. Until that day, let’s not hunker down and stay in the garage of life. Let us explore all that God has for us, embracing both the meaning and the mystery of faith. Since our salvation is assured, let us live with confidence and run the race marked out for us.
Let us not be complacent or slow in doing the will of God, but work for God’s kingdom purposes on this earth, in this age, while it is still called Today. And let us allow the trials of this age to do their work in us, responding to them with joy knowing that our faith is being strengthened for the benefit of blessing the world.
To God be the glory. Even in suffering.
Blessed Lord, you created us and lovingly care for us. We accept all our sufferings willingly, and as truly obedient children we resign ourselves to your holy will. Give us the strength to accept your loving visitation to us through adversity, and never let us grieve your heart by giving-in to impatience and discouragement. We offer you all our pains to be used for your honor and glory.
Brother Jesus, you loved us so much as to suffer and die for our deliverance from sin. Through the love we have for you, we willingly offer all that we have ever suffered in the past, am now suffering, and will suffer in the future. We are grateful that your love enables us to suffer with joy. Because you suffered, we have new life in the name of Jesus who taught us to pray. Amen.