The Limits and Benefits of Suffering
Suffering is a reality we all must face. Our union with Christ does not remove us from the pain that is part and parcel of life this side of eternity. And since “for a little while” we are to be “grieved by various trials,” we need to have a biblical perspective on suffering.
In his first letter, Peter addressed early believers who had been exiled for the sake of Christ. Their suffering had caused them great grief, which Peter noted empathetically—but he also commanded them to rejoice in the midst of their trials. He reminded the early church, as he reminds us, that suffering is inevitably limited in its timeframe: it will only last “for a little while.”
Our pain often does not feel temporary. If it is a chronic physical ailment or an unresolved relational break, it does not feel as though it is lasting “a little while.” Indeed, there are many whose whole earthly pilgrimage is marked by great suffering. Yet it is for this very reason that the Bible says so much about heaven: to remind us that our lives are incredibly brief compared with eternity. “We do not lose heart,” says Paul. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison … The things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Not only this, but as we walk through trials clinging to Christ, our pain is telling us something about our faith. It isn’t difficult to be a Christian when the band is playing and everyone’s marching along, doing just fine. But when difficulties arise, when we have unanswered questions, when we awake in the night and weep uncontrollably, when sometimes all we are able to say is “Father, help,” and yet we do say that… that is when our faith is tested, and that is when it is proved genuine.
Furthermore, we can rejoice in the reality that no matter what we’re going through, God sees, He hears, He cares, and He acts to guard our faith and bring us to our glorious inheritance, in a world where nothing perishes or fades (1 Peter 1:4-5). The road through the valley may be a long one, but He will bring us through it.
God promises to use suffering in the lives of His children to display His glory. None of us will become all that God intends for us to be if we choose always to run in the sunshine of ease and comfort. But when we trust that He will use life’s trials to refine us, we will surely be filled with the hope of eternity and live in a manner that is increasingly like that of our Savior. How does it comfort you to consider the riches and the duration of eternity with Him today? How could you use that prospect to encourage someone else?
1Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2according 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
3Blessed 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, 4to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7so 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. 8Though 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, 9obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
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