Live long enough, you’ll bleed. Perhaps the saddest thing about our pursuit of comfort is the fact that we never actually catch it. Life is full of suffering; no one gets out of here alive.
C.S. Lewis—the brilliant mind behind the Narnia series—once wrote that “crises reveal character.” Sometimes suffering says more about our hearts than it does our circumstances. Very often suffering reveals our idols—reveals where we look for comfort and security. When our idols are threatened, we become bitter, angry, resentful.
Suffering also says a lot about our religious commitments. If I am a deeply religious person, my tendency is to make an idol out of my religious performance. I may be a pillar in my community, a well-respected member of my Church. But when suffering comes, I don’t know how to handle it. Wasn’t I good enough? Is God angry with me? I may become bitter, guilty, and depressed as I struggle to understand what’s happening. I may search for someone else to blame—casting myself as an innocent victim of wicked circumstances. If only the government would come through for us…then I wouldn’t be in this mess.
If I’m a very non-religious person, I may view myself as basically a good person. So when suffering comes, I don’t know how to react. I may become bitter toward God for allowing bad things to happen to good people.
Suffering is one of our oldest questions. The Biblical character Job wrote a whole book about suffering before most of the Bible was even written. But when we look at the reality of the fallen world we live in, we realize that there’s nothing about suffering that should surprise us. In fact, the Bible promises that those who follow after God will often reap hostility from others. This is why Peter would encourage the early Christians to persevere despite their persecution.
1 Peter 3:8-18
8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive,he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
The message of the gospel is radical. We shouldn’t be surprised when the righteous suffer—we should expect it. Jesus lived, suffered, and died despite His sinless obedience to God. Why would we expect anything different for ourselves? We therefore encounter suffering not with clenched fists, but with soft tears.
In the middle of this section we find the key verse: “Always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have” (1 Pe 3:15). Why would a message about suffering suddenly turn to the need for evangelism? Because if crises reveal where we place our hope and trust, then crises also provide opportunities to point others to that same hope. “Everybody Hurts,” writes the rock band R.E.M. “When you’ve had too much of this life, hold on.” Suffering forces us to evaluate what it is we hold onto. Peter is offering the Church something to hold onto: the gospel.
This is why the rest of the section is Peter’s way of unpacking this message. Do you hear what Peter is saying in verses 18-19? He’s emphasizing the death and the resurrection of Jesus, the cross and the empty grave. Chances are, we don’t always have a good answer to the questions that arise during times of suffering. But the gospel tells us what the answers can’t be. The cross tells us that the answer can’t be that God’s not loving, because He cared enough to send His Son. The empty grave tells us that the answer can’t be that God’s not powerful, because He raised His Son from the dead. Suddenly the gospel shifts from merely “religious” knowledge to personal conviction. If this world is all there is, then suffering robs our world of meaning. With eternity in view, suddenly we find ourselves waiting for God to make all things new.
So as we head into the world, we do so with the expectation that we’ll bleed—some of us more than others. But we enter the world with the confidence in a God of love and a God of power. It is His message, His gospel that we carry into a hurting and dying world, offering them the simple message: hold on. Hold on. Hold on.