1 Peter 1:1-9
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Born Again to a Living Hope
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 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. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Bad things happen to good people. Sometimes terrible things happen to wonderful people, and God allows it to be so.
Perhaps you have felt that if you pursue a godly life, you could expect God to keep you from significant suffering in your life. But there is no such deal on the table. Christian faith does not inoculate us against suffering in a fallen world.
The greatest and most godly person who ever lived suffered more than any other. He was rejected by His family. He wept at the graveside of one of His dearest friends. He was betrayed. He suffered injustice. And He was crucified. He calls us to walk in His footsteps, and He tells us clearly, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). God never promised a pain-free path to heaven.
False Claims and Expectations
From its earliest days, the church has been troubled by teachers who offer more than God has promised. They describe Christian experience as mountains without valleys, but a message that ignores the valleys is not big enough for life. It raises false expectations, and it has nothing to say to a suffering world.
Every Christian walks through the valley of suffering. Your suffering may involve physical pain, loss, stress, illness, betrayal, disappointment, injustice, or even abuse. Believers have faced all of these in the valley of suffering. Paul speaks about trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword (Romans 8:35). And when you walk through your valley, you need to know what God says about your experience.
Suffering Has Meaning
The first thing God wants you to know about suffering is that it is not meaningless. “We know,” Paul writes, “that suffering produces perseverance” (Romans 5:3). Our troubles “are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Something comes of your suffering. It produces. It achieves. Our first instinct in pain is to feel that it is pointless, but God tells us it never is.
Think of a bulb being planted. You dig a hole in the dirt, place the bulb in the hole, and then you cover it with dirt and mulch. Imagine the process from the bulb’s perspective! If the bulb could talk, it would say, “I’ve been dumped on. I am surrounded by dirt. I cannot see the light of day.” But the bulb has life in it. That life presses up toward the light, and the dirt that buried the bulb ends up contributing to its growth.
Your faith will be dumped on in many painful experiences, but true faith is like a living seed that pushes upward. God wants you to know that the trials that threaten to bury you will be the means by which you grow.
Passing the Test
Trials are also the means by which your faith is proved genuine. Suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character (Romans 5:4). When you persevere through the valley of suffering, you show that your faith is authentic (1 Peter 1:7).
I will always remember an evening when about twenty members of our congregation met to share their stories of loss. Each of them had experienced the death of a son or daughter.
We spoke at length about unanswered questions and unresolved pain, but at the end of the evening one thing stood out to me more than any other. Here were twenty people who had experienced inexpressible pain. Their suffering remained a mystery, and yet they still loved Christ.
The greatest evidence of the true work of God in the human heart is that, when God allows a person to suffer, he or she loves Him still. God’s people love Him for who He is, not simply for what He gives.
Your response to God in times of trouble will be one of the most revealing things about you. The true character of authentic faith is demonstrated in the valley of suffering.
Character Produces Hope
Your journey through this valley will also lead you into hope (Romans 5:4). Somewhere deep in every heart there is a dream of life as we would want it to be. Suffering reminds us that the dream can never be fulfilled in this fallen world. Our culture is sold out in the pursuit of paradise now. Suffering detaches us from that pursuit and directs our attention toward the day when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, and when God will wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4).
A View from the Third Valley
Imagine yourself putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Before you begin you are given three pieces of information: First, the manufacturers guarantee that all the pieces provided in the box belong to the same picture. Second, the manufacturer has not provided all the pieces. And third, the missing pieces will be provided when everything that can be done with the existing pieces is complete.
You tear the box open and start to put the pieces together. As your work progresses, you find some pieces exasperating; they don’t connect with the work you have done, and they don’t fit with each other.
Perhaps you have come to that place in your life. There is a piece that just doesn’t seem to fit. You can’t see how it could have any useful place in your life. You hate it and want rid of it, but without this strangely shaped piece, the picture cannot be completed.
One day, God will give you the other pieces. Then you will see where that which has caused you so much pain fits into the picture. And when that time comes, you will have more joy over that piece than all the others.
- Think about a situation of pain or loss in your life. How did God cause you to grow through that experience?