The apostle Peter wrote his first letter to help Christians suffer well, with more than a dozen lessons for the valley. While their specific suffering is not necessarily common to all Christians, it is common to many Christians around the world, and the wisdom and hope here speak just as powerfully into every kind of suffering Christians experience.
Suffering well, like doing anything well, requires careful preparation.
“One of the major causes of devastating grief and confusion among Christians is that our expectations are false,” writes Don Carson. “We do not give the subject of evil and suffering the thought it deserves until we ourselves are confronted with tragedy” (How Long O Lord?, 11).
No one falls into the stunning ability to be “sorrowful” and yet, at the same time, “always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10) without first patiently, even tenaciously, seeking God. If we want to suffer well, we need to learn where to stand, and where to look, when our storms come — and we do well to learn before they come.
We don’t need all the answers when suffering strikes. In fact, we won’t have all the answers. We only need to know a few truly great promises and a few proven paths other faithful sufferers have walked, and crawled, before and beside us.
Three Lessons for the Valley
The apostle Peter wrote his first letter to help Christians suffer well, with more than a dozen lessons for the valley. While their specific suffering is not necessarily common to all Christians, it is common to many Christians around the world, and the wisdom and hope here speak just as powerfully into every kind of suffering Christians experience. For now, let’s focus on three paths to strength, stability, and hope in 1 Peter.
1. Imagine what waits for you.
Before we can truly experience the good God has for us in suffering, we have to see our suffering on earth in the light of what is waiting for us in heaven.
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, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3–4)
Before Peter sympathizes with their suffering — and he does sympathize with their suffering (1 Peter 1:6) — he draws them heavenward. Suffering has a way of making the difficult circumstances of the present seem ultimate, as if our whole existence is summed up in this awful moment. But for those with a living hope, suffering is never ultimate. Suffering may indeed linger and harass us until death comes, but then, for all who hope in God, pain itself will suffer swift extinction. If we were more familiar with heaven, we would experience suffering differently.
Randy Alcorn has known his share of suffering, both personally and most recently in walking his wife through a terrible war with cancer. He endures with her by imagining all that is kept in heaven for him.
Anticipating heaven doesn’t eliminate pain, but it lessens it and puts it in perspective. Meditating on heaven is a great pain reliever. It reminds us that suffering and death are temporary conditions. Our existence will not end in suffering and death — they are but a gateway to our eternal life of unending joy. (Heaven, 460)
We all will suffer, some of us more severely than others — but only for now. “After you have suffered a little while,” Peter says, “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10–11).
Heaven will restore all you have lost, and more — never to be lost again. Heaven will finally and fully confirm what God has only started in you and through you here on earth. Heaven will strengthen you until you forget what it was like to feel weak. Heaven will establish you, forever free from sin and suffering, in the painless and thrilling presence of God. After you have suffered for a little while.