Seeing Through Suffering

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 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. 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, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6-12

When we are suffering from the problems of life, we often become nearsighted. We find ourselves only able to focus on the problem itself. This type of spiritual myopia prevents us from seeing the help available to us through Christ, His Word, and His church. This is a sad, yet not uncommon, situation in life.

Dr. Jay Adams, in his commentary on Peter’s first letter, suggests, however, that we can be glad when we are sad. The key to being glad when we are sad and suffering is seeing. In this post, we will listen to Peter tell us what we should see beyond the immediate circumstances of our suffering to what will enable us to be glad when we are sad. While not being exhaustive, let’s look at a few things Peter shares with us in these verses.

See the Truths in Suffering

Trials are part of Christian life. John Calvin wrote, “All whom the Lord has chosen (remember, Peter referred to his readers as elect [chosen] exiles) and received into the society of his saints ought to prepare themselves for a life that is hard, difficult, laborious and full of countless griefs.” I would suppose we all can attest to this being true. It is important to see in this passage, however, Peter adds two “buts” to this truth.

The first of these “buts” is that while we suffer in the world, it is only for a little while. It may seem much longer, but in perspective, it is not. Remember, our joy and our inheritance endures forever, as Peter also points out in the previous section of the letter.

The second “but” is our suffering is only “if need be.” Peter is telling us that suffering happens only if there is a necessity; if some good can come of it. Our God is sovereign over all things, including suffering and He has promised to work all things to the good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). Remembering this leads to the next idea Peter shares.

See Purpose In Suffering Trials

Peter explains there is purpose in trials. All our trials have a purpose. They have meaning. They are not random or senseless. They are not outside of God’s power and will.

Our trials test genuineness of our faith. This testing is not like an exam we took in school to identify our skill and knowledge. They are given to improve us: refine us like gold and make us better.

Our trials are not punitive. They can’t be. All punishment for the sins of believers has already been laid on Jesus Christ. They may be disciplinary. It is possible that God, like the living Father He is, may be trying to correct something in us. As the author of Hebrews writes, “All discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  They may also be disciplinary in that they are helping us develop the godly disciplines of faith, hope, love, and perseverance.

So, let’s look beyond the immediate pain and suffering of life’s trials and seek God’s purposes. Perhaps we will then experience that peaceful fruit of righteousness. One man who understood this well was the great reformer Martin Luther, who wrote, “Ah! affliction is the best book in my library.”

See Jesus with Eyes of Faith

There is something we clearly share with Peter’s original audience. We have not seen Jesus. We certainly don’t see Him now. At least not with our sense of vision. And Peter, who had seen Jesus, commends his readers for their faith in Jesus though never seeing Him. Perhaps Peter is recalling what Jesus said to Thomas when he refused to believe Jesus had risen before he actually saw Him with his own eyes. Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Peter wants us to see Jesus in the midst of suffering because He is there with us. In suffering and in good times, we are to keep our eyes on Jesus. Indeed, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1b-2). As we focus on Jesus and not on our sufferings, we are reminded that He suffered for us and is seated on God’s right hand interceding for us and preparing a place for us we will one day inhabit on the other side of the sufferings we experience in this life.

See What The Prophets Longed To See

When we are suffering, we want answers. We often turn to the Scriptures and God in prayer, but don’t get the answers were are seeking. The prophets and Old Testament saints understood this. They knew the Messiah was coming, but they only knew in part. God only revealed to them what He chose to reveal.

The prophets did not despair in this lack of knowledge. They searched; studying the Scriptures as to what they revealed about the coming Christ. Further, they inquired; crying out to God in prayer for more revelation. What they discovered (what was revealed to them either in the Scriptures or directly as God spoke to them) was that the Messiah would suffer (Is 53), but that He would also be glorified (Ps 110).

Most importantly, however, is that they believed. They believed; even though God did not reveal all they wanted to know. They determined that the revelation God had provided was enough for them. While they might have diligently searched for more information, they trusted in their Lord. They did not have to see it all.

According to Peter, they realized they had another purpose.  The prophets realized they were serving us. They realized it was not about them. They were God’s spokesmen, serving other believers: those who would get to learn more about the Messiah; those who would have the gospel preached to them; and those who would receive the Holy Spirit, whom the prophets only knew in part. They learned to be content with the role they had received from their Lord.

Seeing is Believing

Peter encourages us to see something different when facing suffering and trials. He is reminding us that seeing does not always involve the eyes. Seeing involves understanding, including knowing, believing, trusting. This is the essence of faith, which the author to the Letter to the Hebrews defines as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

This is how the prophets and the heroes of the faith described in the rest of the Hebrews 11 saw things. They all suffered and died in faith, not having received the things promised. But they saw them from afar with eyes of faith, knowing that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

This kind of seeing is believing. We don’t deny that trials and suffering exist, we just shift our focus. We realize there is more to the story. We shift our focus from our problems to our Savior, who will use these trials to make us better…more like Him.

This is why we endeavor to be quick to hear and slow to speak.

rjm

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