I once knew a guy who thought God had it out for him. Everything in his life was going wrong. The problem was that he was responsible for most of things that were happening to him. When you get ticketed for driving on expired driver and vehicle licenses, this is usually your fault. Especially when they expired a year prior and were from a different state than where you have been living for a year. This was one example of many things. When I suggested that he might be the one responsible for the bad things happening, he was shocked.
Let’s get one thing straight at the start here. No one is perfect. My list of failures, blunders, and stupidities could wrap around the world a few times. Apart from the grace of God, there is no way I would still be standing today. If we are honest, we know this about ourselves. And yet, there are times that this life does not seem to make sense. Suffering and hardship seems to come when it should not have or when we would not have expected it to.
I know someone who finds themselves in a very difficult work situation. She has been teaching for about 20 years. She used to love her job. She works in an area that is tough economically and where many students drop out or don’t succeed. But she looks at these kids as if they were her own and works hard to help them, not only in her subject expertise, but in other areas of life. It is no surprise that many former students still contact her years later. In spite of all this, she is enduring suffering within her profession. Recently, an administrator sat in on one of her classes for 5 minutes, then departed, and then proceeded to give her a substandard teaching review. This is in her permanent record. Unfair? Yes. Infuriating? Absolutely. Immoral? Probably. One would only have to talk to former students and parents to know that this kind of review is not accurate or fair. And yet, there it is. What do you do?
I know a family. They love their children. They do everything that they can to provide for their kids. Life together started “normally.” They were married and in the next few years, their children started coming along. That is when things began to change for them. You see, all of their children fall on the Autism spectrum. Two of the kids are much more significantly impacted. I understand very little about autism, other than how I see that it impacts people, both those with the diagnosis and their families and friends. One diagnosis would be difficult. Three just seems like a kick in the teeth. What happened? Did God blink or something? Does He not care? Why would this level of hardship be allowed to reside with one family? As this family loves, works hard, struggles for solutions, and tries to do what is best for their kids, the many questions seem to go without answers.
I am reminded of the question Jesus was asked. “Who sinned?” (John 9:2). In other words, whose fault is this? We want to find some way to explain why these things happen. Jesus’ response was “no one.” Okay, that’s great, but what about the suffering? What about the hardships? Why does it seem like some people coast through life and others get dumped on, without any relief on the horizon?
In the Bible, there are examples of many people who suffered. Much of this suffering seemed undeserved. Two examples that come to mind are Joseph and Job. Both men endured suffering that they neither understood nor deserved. In Joseph’s case, God’s ultimate purpose was revealed. In Job’s case, it never was, that I am aware of. Job lost everything, except for a nagging wife, who told him to curse God, and friends who blamed Job for his own demise and gave him terrible and inaccurate advice. In the end, God restored Job and rebuked Job’s friends, but there was never an explanation provided. And I am sure that the scars, both physical and emotional, were a reminder throughout the rest of Job’s life.
Suffering is a tough issue to deal with. The very presence of suffering in the world is what causes some people to reject the existence of God altogether or to not want anything to do with a God that would allow such things to happen. And yet, if there is no God, suffering becomes even more terrible to deal with, in my mind. If there is no God, there is no hope beyond what we can achieve and survive in this life. There is no ultimate justice in the world. Many things will come to with an end without a satisfactory or just solution. I find that possibility a far worse option.
I have been recently reading in 1 Peter 2:13-25, where Peter is instructing believers to be subject to those who God has placed in authority over them. This included the emperor, like Nero, who persecuted and had Christians put to death. It included masters, who may have treated their servants cruelly. In this age of always defending our rights, this seems so contradictory. Why would Peter say this? He states the reasons. “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” 1 Peter 2:15
Okay, I can mostly get this. By doing good, it is a testimony to others by our obedience to God. But what about unjust suffering? This is where it gets more difficult. Peter continues, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” 1 Peter 2:18-20
God seems to clear up at least one thing here: there will be unjust suffering in this world. Peter goes on to say that when we endure in the midst of unjust suffering, it is a gracious thing in the sight of God. What does this mean? The ESV Study Bible suggests that this is an indication that God’s people will receive a reward from Him for enduring suffering righteously. In addition, it could also mean that patient endurance of suffering is evidence of God’s grace at work. So, regardless of the “why,” the suffering does not escape God’s notice. When we suffer and patiently endure, it is evidence of God’s grace at work in us and, in addition, that we will be rewarded by Him.
Following Jesus can mean so many different things. But here, Peter goes on to say that something that I don’t necessarily like to hear. We have been called to follow in the steps of Jesus. And in the context of this passage, that means following through suffering. What? “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21. In the context of this passage, I don’t think this can mean anything else. However, I don’t think this means that we go out looking for a life of suffering. I think it is meant to instruct us on our perspective to suffering. There are several things we can take from this.
First, this is a broken world. There is no way around this fact. The results of sin and a fallen human race are evident all around us. There are evil people who will cause suffering for others, whether on a small or large scale. In addition, the impact of sin has corrupted God’s beautiful design for His creation. Disease, disorders, and disabilities are not God’s design. These have come as a result of a broken world that rejected God’s perfect will. And until He renews and restores it at the culmination of history, we all will suffer the impacts of sin on creation.
Second, following Jesus will bring suffering. Jesus said that the world hates Him and, therefore, will hate us. We are living in an age in America where the allusion of a Christian nation is fading away. This world lies in the power of the evil one. It has since the fall of man. The Bible is clear on this. Satan will do whatever He can to destroy the work of Christ. We should not expect the world to stand up and applaud when we follow Jesus.
Third, Jesus suffered more injustice than anyone ever has or ever will. Jesus was completely without sin. God in human flesh. The Creator of the universe walking among us. Yet, He was despised and rejected by those He came to save. He was beaten, abused, cursed, and humiliated. And He bore the complete weight and punishment for the sin of the world. He deserved nothing but glory. He suffered more than anyone in history ever has or ever will. And in the midst of it, continued to trust the Father, who judges justly.
Fourth, because of Jesus’ unjust suffering, we can have hope. We can have hope because His suffering has provided us a way to escape a just judgment. In our sin, we deserve God’s wrath and judgment. Christ has purchased, through His suffering, our forgiveness through His blood. If we receive Christ, we are provided the righteousness of Christ as our very own. This is not justice. This is not fair. This is grace. And this gives us hope, for we can entrust our lives to the One Who judges justly. We can trust Him to resolve all of the suffering, grief, and tragedy that we see in the world and even in our own lives. It has not gone unnoticed. It will not be without reward. It might still be very, very difficult. It might not always make sense. We might doubt and struggle along the way. But our God knows our suffering. He endured it Himself on the cross. He promises to be with us all along the way, until we make it safely home.
“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:22-25
Together for His glory…