Suffering sometimes feels like slipping, sinking, suffocating. As the Psalms testify, suffering can engulf and consume, leaving you groping for a handhold. Suffering can swallow you whole, blocking any light from outside.
There’s no way to make suffering not hurt. Some pains simply need to run their course, and some will keep coursing through you long after most people have forgotten about your trial. So Christians need to acknowledge the reality that in this world we will have trouble.
But responding to suffering as a Christian takes more than bare acknowledgement. Instead, we need to be able to put it in its place. And that’s exactly what Peter’s first letter helps us do.
The entire epistle reflects on the reality of and reasons for Christians’ suffering. But I want to focus on just two verses, 1 Peter 1:6–7. These verses frame suffering in God’s eternal purpose to glorify his people, providing a firm, compact handhold to cling to in trials.
In verses 3 through 5, Peter blesses God the Father for giving us new birth, bestowing on us the sure hope of an imperishable inheritance, and guarding us through faith for the salvation which will be revealed on the last day. Verse 6 affirms that “In this”—that is, this salvation soon to come—“you rejoice,” but then Peter immediately qualifies this rejoicing. Note the concession and the three little phrases that specify it: “though now for a little while, if necessary, you are grieved by various trials.”
Now, for a little while, if necessary.With these words peter puts suffering in its place, but that doesn’t mean he’s minimizing or papering over it. He isn’t advocating stoicism or stiff-upper-lip-ism. Instead, Peter freely acknowledges that trials hurt. And he doesn’t limit this to the trial of suffering for our faith, though that is prominent in the letter (2:12, 15; 3:14–17; 4:12–19). Instead, he speaks of “various” trials, casting the net wide enough to take in all the effects of the fall.
Let’s wrap our fingers around every bulge and groove in this divinely inspired handhold for sufferers.
Now. Now we suffer, but then is coming. This life isn’t all. As Christians, we should have both feet planted firmly in the future—God’s future, where our inheritance and salvation await us. If suffering is smothering you in darkness, open a window to eternity.
For a little while. The math is simple: this life is short and eternity is long. Time certainly seems to stretch and slow as we suffer, but God has cut our life-spans mercifully short. Whatever you’re suffering, it will end, and soon (1 Pet. 5:10).
If necessary. God is not clumsy or careless or powerless to stop his creation and creatures from fouling up. No—God rules over all in infinite wisdom, even stillbirth and slander and a thousand other sorrows that slice into bone. We suffer because suffering is necessary according to the will of God (1 Pet. 4:19).
But why does God deem trials necessary? Verse 7 completes the thought: “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”