Suffering ought not be strange: Thoughts on 1 Peter 4:12-19

Do not be surprised...

That’s the opening for this Biblical discussion on suffering.  It doesn’t say, “Do not be surprised when you suffer punishment for all your wrong doings.”  Though we shouldn’t be surprised at that either, its not the point of this passage.  This passage is speaking to the suffering that Christians experience, not because of their wrong doing, but because they are following Christ.  Do not be surprised when it comes upon you.

Why is it that we so rarely hear this message?  My guess is that we don’t hear it very often because we don’t want to hear it very often, or at all.  We have lost the Biblical idea of what it means to suffer, which means that when suffering comes, we run from it and miss out on the blessings of God.  That’s right, suffering is a part of, and leads to, the blessings of God.  The conclusion of this passage in v. 19 tells us, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”  Do not be surprised...suffer well.  These are the two book ends to 1 Peter 4:12-19.

So what does it mean to suffer well, and why does suffering come with an encouragement?  First of all, I believe the monks got it wrong when they moved out into the desert to live a harsh life of solitary confinement, thinking that would draw them closer to Christ.  In the context of 1 Peter, suffering meant to stand up for your faith, even when authorities wanted to punish you.  That is certainly still evident in parts of our world today, and to a growing extent in our own country.  Yet maybe, in a consumer driven culture, it might also mean something different.

Jesus redeemed us into community...His body the church.  He did so, at least partly, because we grow in Christlikeness when we live in relationship with others, where we are driven to live not merely for ourselves.  With that in mind, maybe we need to consider how we look at the church.  Is it a place that is meant to be our social club, albeit with an uplifting message?  Is it a place for us to find people who look and act just like us, and who won’t stretch us too much?  Is it a place for us to be served?  Or, is it a place (actually not a place, but a God ordained institution serving as the bride of Christ) where the gospel is proclaimed to lost and hurting sinners (like me), and where those messy people (like me) who needed Jesus, and have been saved by him, can grow in Christlikeness together as a community of believers?

There is an element of suffering in the church.  Do not be surprised by it.  If the message of suffering is missing, something deeper is missing, like the message of a Redeemer who suffered on our behalf, and calls us to follow him.  So, do not be surprised.  Let us entrust our souls to our faithful Creator.  As we do, soon we will find that our faithful Creator not only intends to use us, he intends to bless us.  Then, we just might begin to find that his blessing may not have been what we thought it was.  Maybe his blessing is that he is graciously changing us, and our desires, into his own image.