Suffering is Not Strange
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:12-13 (ESV)
In our culture, comfort and ease are valued so highly that the very thought of suffering as a normal part of life is unthinkable. In fact, too often the message coming from Christian leaders makes a mockery of suffering and categorizes it as outside of personal faith. Many people try to believe that they can live without suffering and still be faithful witnesses of God’s kingdom. This is a sad state of theological confusion that leaves people without adequate support when trouble comes.
The gospel produces such a contrasting culture that conflict is inevitable. Wickedness and righteousness are at odds. Truth and deception collide. Those promoting a kingdom of human exaltation will mock those who treasure humility and love. But there is more involved than the inevitable conflict between light and darkness. God mocks the worship of tyranny by destroying it with suffering. God’s glory is shown most clearly when put under the unjust pressure of those wielding the scepter of unrighteousness. Just like Jesus’ hour of glory was the hour of his greatest suffering, we are privileged to reflect his glory in our own hour. We can be sure that suffering with him always brings glory far beyond the price of the pain.
Perhaps one of the reasons we shy away from suffering is that we have not yet learned that our purpose on earth is to reflect his glory. Maybe we have bought the peddler’s gospel that our purpose is always to be the winner in every contest and that we can use the metrics of the culture to measure our success. Yet those who live for his glory can rejoice with much or with little. They can abound and abase. Though they do not want to bring shame to his name, they are not trying to protect their own reputations. They get it as citizens of political countries who must deal with imperfect people and incomplete systems of law. They get it as members of a family where neither husband or wife are yet complete. They get it as members of the body of Christ who are still growing into maturity as they forbear with each other.
Suffering is not some strange thing that should surprise us. We belong to a new race of people who are representing a new kingdom on earth. Our king already sits enthroned. We are expanding his realm by shining as lights in a dark place.