6In which you greatly rejoice, even if it has been necessary to put you through grief in various trials,
7that even if tested by fire, the result of your faith, more precious than gold that will pass away, will turn out to result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. — 1 Peter 1:6-7
We’ve been following the course of Holy Week, and trying to stay with the disciples as they experience questioning, disappointment, despair, fear, and hopelessness. Then we watched as they are interrupted in their fear and get a new message: He is Risen!
The temptation is to wonder just why we had to go through all that trouble. Why couldn’t God bring about a happy ending without all the suffering in between? It reminds me of the repeated question: Why did Jesus have to die?
Some Christians focus on suffering. For them, joining in Christ in poverty, suffering, and persecution is a key part of the Christian life, and might even be considered the Christian life. Other Christians, especially recently, have concentrated on the joy, the blessings, the good things that a Christian should receive. After all, God promises many blessings to those who serve him and obey him, and not all of those blessings are for the next life.
There’s something we almost always miss in trying to answer these questions. We want the answer to focus on God. We want it to be good, deep theology. If there was an ultimate purpose, perhaps the salvation of millions, or even God’s reputation as understood on other worlds, then that would explain our suffering adequately.
But the fact is that in scripture most of what God does has to do with people. It has to do with you and me and what’s going to happen to us. Whether you want to feel important or not, God thinks you’re important. Now don’t get arrogant. God cares about me just as much as he cares about you. God cares about everyone. God cares about people.
The answers often come in looking not just at God, but at how people react. And there’s the key to understanding suffering. When I went into the Air Force, I went through basic training. Now Air Force basic training, I’m told, is not as tough as that of the other services. It’s hard to tell how to compare, because members of each service want to think they’re better than the others. But whatever the comparison, Air Force basic training was annoying. I did many things I didn’t want to do, and I didn’t really enjoy it. In fact, there was really nothing about it that I look back on nostalgically.
The one key, however, was what happened to people afterward. The idea of basic training was not to give pleasure. It was to prepare people to undergo stress. In my time in the service I did have to undergo stress and it was a good idea to be prepared. Now there was other training later that was more important, and helped prepare me more than the basic training. The point is that there was no wonder or excitement in enduring these things. The blessing was in finishing and being prepared to do what one needed to do.
It is the same with suffering in our lives. The times of hardship and disappointment are not designed as a stopping place, or as a blessing in themselves. They are designed to test and refine you and get you ready for the next step.
Just consider the disciples before and after Holy Week. That’s the result of going through God’s testing and coming out refined.