Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as 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. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.
However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will, should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (New International Version)
In a culture of toxic positivity, we can never quite bring ourselves around to the reality of suffering. Being uncomfortable with the unwanted emotions associated with suffering seems to be the modus operandi of the Western world.
Like it, or not, none of us gets off this fallen planet without experiencing a host of circumstances we neither asked for nor wanted. And no amount of plastic smiles, fake-it-till-you-make-it approaches, and spin doctoring of attitudes will ever take the pain completely away – or even fully understand it’s mystery. In the long run, whitewashing pain only exacerbates the suffering.
Yet, despite all hardship and hurt, joy and the ability to rejoice still remains a necessary part of life, even in the worst of situations. The problem is: We tend to believe that we cannot hold seemingly opposing feelings at the same time – even though we actually do it all the time.
When the youngest child leaves home and the parents are empty nesters, they feel the simultaneous emotions of proud joy and deep sadness.
And when an aging parent or grandparent dies, the family experiences the bittersweet feelings of knowing that suffering is ended, yet also this dear loved one is gone from us.
Or when you are treated unfairly and spoken of unkindly, there is a mix of emotions from anger about what is happening to some sense of peace that this person or group of people have shown their real colors to the world.
I am going to make one of the simplest observations about God’s people in the Bible: they suffered; they were seen.
Whether Abel dying by the hand of his own brother, Noah enduring the ridicule of his neighbors, Abraham facing an uncertain future, Jeremiah weeping over Jerusalem’s calloused destruction, or Paul enduring persecution, everyone who wants to live a godly life will face suffering.
Every New Testament Epistle has a message about how to handle the inevitability of human suffering.
The Apostle Peter, in his epistle, made it clear that every Christian should neither be surprised nor shocked when they suffer. If our Lord suffered (which he did, even to the extreme) then we, too, will also suffer, as those who follow him.
Yet, Peter balances the harsh reality of suffering with the need for followers of Jesus to properly interpret that suffering. The Apostle learned the hard way that our means of accepting, coping with, and transcending hardship is by interpreting our personal suffering in light of Christ’s own suffering.
He insisted that the Christian’s suffering is a privilege, even a blessing. It is a mark of belonging – a sign that God’s Spirit is within us.
If we do stupid things, we face the consequences for our foolishness. But when we do the good, right, and altruistic thing – then suffer some adverse effect – it puts us in solidarity with Christ. We can be glad for the chance to suffer as Christ suffered. It prepares the believer for even greater happiness when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead.
I’m under no illusions or delusions here. Interpreting our suffering through specifically Christian lenses is no easy task. Sometimes it’s rough and downright hard. And it gets complicated when the suffering doesn’t let up and is compounded daily for weeks, months, even years at a time.
So, what shall we do in such times? Peter says that if your suffering originates in obedience to God, then keep the faith, keep on doing the right, the just, and the good thing.
A bad attitude, giving up, and revenge are not options on the table for the Christian. I believe most followers of Jesus understand that. The greater temptation, however, is a more subtle and insidious approach toward suffering: going with “meh.”
“Meh” is a spiritual, emotional, and mental stance of simply going with the flow, getting along on the surface of things, and hoping all the unpleasantness goes away soon. In facing the adversity with all it’s painful suffering, the “meh” person just shrugs their shoulders and says, “Meh, whatever; what’s a guy to do, anyway?”
Thanks for asking. We persevere. Don’t let suffering surprise you when it shows up at your door like an unwanted guest. Here’s some practical ways of getting through it:
- Tell your story to others and don’t go it alone and be the martyr. We already have a Martyr, and his name is Jesus.
- Do something that isn’t nothing. Avoid piddly busywork. Instead, when renewal and rest are needed, read a good book or have a stimulating conversation.
- Have a support system in place before suffering comes upon you. Trials to faith will happen. It will be overly difficult to face them without a community of persons around you.
- Ask for help, for God’s sake! People are hard-wired by their Creator for community. Rugged individualism is a myth; it doesn’t exist and isn’t even possible.
- Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Comfort is not the summum bonum of life. Hedonism only masks pain and does not take it away. Expand your ability to handle diverse situations.
- Realize that Christianity is a process of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a one-and-done uttering a sinner’s prayer and waiting to cash-in a divine life insurance policy in order to stay out of hellfire. If you actually believe this, I suggest reading the Bible.
- Keep living your life. The earth is still spinning on its axis. The sun will still come up in the morning. God’s steadfast and faithful love will still be waiting for you when you wake up.
God sees and will vindicate the godly attitude, the ongoing work, and all the blood, sweat, and tears that go with our commitment to Christ and perseverance in the faith.
You’re already signed-up for suffering just by being a person. Welcome to the human condition. What will you do with your pain?
Saving and sustaining God, it is a small thing for me to suffer in light of your great suffering on my behalf through the cross. Empower me, and all your people everywhere, to do right every day so that praise, glory, and honor for Jesus Christ will always be on my lips through the enablement of the Holy Spirit. Amen.