1 Peter 4:12
I remember when I was a child that I would sometimes attend a surprise birthday party. We would attempt to hide from the guest of honor. Soon the guest of honor would show up and we would jump out from behind things and yell, Surprise! The guest of honor would look surprised, whether surprised or not. In this case, surprise was a very good thing. The surprised one gets something valuable and desired.
However, sometimes we are surprised by something we do not want. You may have experienced that phone call from a relative relaying information about a bad accident. Maybe you have heard the doctor came out and tell you that you or a loved one would die. Here is a surprise, but pain comes as a result. In both cases the surprised one does not know or expect the event to happen.
Surprise can take someone totally off guard and cause them to hyperventilate. Surprise can cause us to make very poor decisions. Surprise can weaken our resolve to do what is right. Surprise can be good and it can be bad.
False Gospels set us up for surprise
The writer of I Peter seeks to make sure that we are not caught by surprise. You see the writer knows that the Christian will go through some hard times in this world. And yet there are many Christians who think that a Christian has no need to worry about pain and hurt. There are certain false gospels that teach that as soon as you become a Christian you do not have to worry about problems.
For example, I turned on the television the other night and saw a television preacher with some holy water. Supposedly the source of the water was the river Jordan. The preacher also added to the holiness of the water by praying over it. The water could be used internally or externally. One person put the holy water on his head and his hair stopped falling out. One person rubbed the holy water on their tumor and the next day it just fell off. Amazingly another man put the holy water on his wallet. Imagine his surprise when he found a check in the mail for a large sum of money. This is an illustration of what many think Christianity is. Once you become a Christian, God is about to hook you up. You have lost all of your problems. So just believe and it will all be given to you. Is it any wonder that many of us are set up for a surprise? For whether you believe it or not, you will have trouble and heartache in this world.
Others have a more sophisticated form of this idea that shows up in their view of the end times. They have created a secret rapture doctrine where Jesus secretly removes the people of God right before the “great tribulation.” Christians do not have to worry about going through the great tribulation. Then after this great tribulation is over, seven years later, Jesus will bring the Christians back to the earth to pick up all of those who weren’t Christians but decided to become so during the tribulation. Here is an eschatology built on no pain on the earth, no pain at the end, and no pain at any time. In fact being a Christian seems like the perfect way to escape pain. But we all know it doesn’t work like that!
Some ask why we have to struggle
We know by experience that this is not how our lives work. Some of us want it to work like that so bad that we pay money to the purveyors of this theology. We want to believe that Christians do not suffer problems, but we know that is not the case. In fact more than by our own experience, the Biblical writers tell this as well, reminding us to not be surprised at the fiery ordeal. What is the fiery ordeal? It is not the nice living some of us would like to think it would be. No, it is a rough time. It is pain, it is struggle, and it is whatever we have to go through in this life. It is the loss of a job that we did not foresee. It is the cancer that bankrupts us and kills our hopes. It is the divorce that our spouse wants. What is the fiery ordeal? It is the tribulation that some believe that God would save us from. But this is not true.
Yes there is a fiery ordeal in the world. Yes there is pain in the world, but why? Why do we have trouble when God is all powerful? Why do we have trouble when God is all powerful? God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, why do my creditors want to evict me? God has healing in God’s wings and yet I can’t be healed of my afflictions. Why?
We find examples in the scripture of people asking this question of why. But the answer to why does not come some readily. Some argue that the devil and his angels are running around on the earth causing problems for God’s people as Revelation 12 teaches. I agree with this position, but it still doesn’t answer the question of why the devil is allowed to hurt God’s people and God not stop it.
Someone else may argue that the free will of humanity explains this problem. That one might say that we have problems and pain in the world because humanity has to make its own decision on who to follow and who not to. Thus the pain in the world is as a result of that fact, but the answer keeps coming back to a God who has the power, but does not seem to be using it.
While I think there is truth in the above arguments, I really cannot answer why God allows some suffering and stops others. I wish I did. I wish God would let me know, but there is a key in our text to understanding God even if we can’t always understand God’s actions. While I do not know why I have to suffer, I can be comforted in knowing that Christ walked this way before me.
You see the writer states, “But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings.” Here we note that Christ walked the same road that I am on. Jesus Christ, took human nature and was tempted like we are (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus Christ took human nature and had the laws of heredity working on him. His family tree included a murderer and an adulterer. Jesus Christ walked all the way to Gethsemane and begged the father to take the cup from him (Mark 14:36). Jesus Christ then died a lonely death at the cross. In fact at the cross he yelled to God, “Why have you forsaken me!” (Mark 15:34) God raised that same Jesus Christ from the dead. The crucified Christ was resurrected.
I don’t fully know why we have to go through suffering, but there must be some important reason because Jesus the Christ submitted to suffering. And when Christ submitted to it, he provided a way through it.
So I cannot fully answer the question why? But I can answer that God went though it. I cannot answer why, but I can say that, “because he suffered being tempted he is able to help us who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18). I cannot fully answer why we have to go through struggles, but like the old time gospel singer says, “We will understand it better bye and bye.” I cannot answer why we have to go through problems, but I can say that though I make my bed in hell, God is with me (Psalm 139:8). You may have to go into hell, as it were, but Praise God you don’t have to go into hell alone! So take heart, God is with you. Hold on. God has already defeated it! Don’t be surprised, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33). Yes you have to struggle, yes you will have heartache, yes you will have pain, but Jesus went through the pain before you, and Jesus is with you in the pain now, and Jesus has already overcome the pain for you.