“Responses to Suffering”
1 Peter 4:12-13
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.
This devotion pairs with this weekend’s Lutheran Hour sermon, which can be found at lutheranhour.org.
Think back to the last time you had a bad splinter. It’s confounding how the smallest piece of wood or shard of glass can become an all-consuming thorn in the flesh. And if it’s in a place you can’t reach, you will submit to some humiliating position, while a trusted agent performs a minor surgical operation, digging under your skin with a sewing needle. Because the pain is unbearable—that’s why we submit ourselves to such conditions. But then, you also know the flood of relief when the splinter is out. The mountains and the hills break forth into song; the trees clap their hands (see Isaiah 55:12). You go out skipping like a calf fresh from the stall (see Malachi 4:2). The misery is gone almost instantly—like being reborn into a new world.
This common experience can help us talk about responding to suffering as a Christian. Peter frequently speaks of suffering in this short letter we’re reading. For Christians, suffering could come from violent persecution or from subtle insults. It could come from living with a stubborn person or working for a bad boss. It could come from your own conflicting desires that wage war within you, or from any number of various trials that test your faith in God (see 1 Peter 1:6-7, 2:11, 18, 3:1, 4:4). But, as much as Peter speaks of suffering, he speaks more often of joy, of that future day when Jesus returns as King and the mountains will break into song and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. And because that day is coming, Peter also speaks of loving life now, amid sufferings (see 1 Peter 3:10).
So, how do Christians respond to suffering? We don’t ignore it. We aren’t surprised when it comes. And we don’t try to perform the operation on our own. Instead, Peter calls us to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, so that, at the right time, He may lift us up, out of suffering (see 1 Peter 5:6). The Christian way to suffer, Peter says, is to entrust ourselves to the care of our Creator while continuing to do good and to receive good from others (see 1 Peter 4:19).
When someone asks us (or when we ourselves ask the question), “Why is God letting me suffer like this?”—we may not know what the answer is. But we know what the answer isn’t. We know what the answer cannot be. It cannot be that God doesn’t love us. It cannot be that God is indifferent to our pain. That cannot be the answer because God has taken our suffering so seriously that He took it onto Himself. Jesus suffered for us, not so that we might never suffer, but so that our sufferings would become like His—sufferings entrusted into the loving hands of our Father, sufferings we endure with His strength, suffering while continuing to do good and to receive good from others. We don’t have all the answers, but we have a trusted Surgeon and a sense of the joy that will come when the splinter is out, and all creation put right.
Dear Father, help us endure the fiery trial when it comes. In Jesus’ Name.
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour.
1. Do you have a memorable instance of a splinter being pulled out?
2. Why does entrusting yourself into the care of another involve a posture of humility?
3. Peter calls us to “suffer as Christians”—who is an example of this for you?
Today’s Bible in a Year Reading:
2 Samuel 21-22; Psalm 18; John 6:22-40