Wednesday, August 8, 2007

1 Peter: Hope amidst suffering

I haven't gotten the chance to listen to my father speak very often. Sometimes it's hard to see the man as a preacher, but he has a knowledge of scripture, and an eloquence of speaking, that is almost unparalleled in my opinion. I was able to visit with him this evening, and listen to him give a lesson to the church's Wednesday night Bible class. He has been leading them in a discussion of the letters to the different churches discussing the problems of the first century churches, and the solutions offered by the apostles. Tonight he spoke on 1 and 2 Peter. Although he talked about 2nd Peter, and the emphasis on false teaching, I was only struck by his talk on 1 Peter.

He begun by mentioning what he thought to be the overall theme of the book itself, a theme of "Hope amidst suffering."

The very first scripture he had us look at was 1 Peter 4:

"So those who suffer according to God's will should, in doing good, entrust themselves to a faithful Creator."

He asked us the question: who, in this verse, is causing us to suffer? The answer is clearly God. I was amazed, not that I misunderstood the possibility of God allowing us to suffer so that he might shape us into who we need to be, but that it is his intention for us to suffer. It is his plan for us to suffer. Surely God is more merciful than that, and doesn't want us to suffer... right?

1 Peter 1:11 mentions "the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow." Chapter 2, verse 21 makes it fairly clear: "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his footsteps." The suffering of Christ serves to us as an example. How is this?
In verse 23 of the same chapter, "When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats," and in chapter 3 verse 9, we are told "do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing."

It's easy to repay evil with evil, to focus on revenge and not turn the other cheek, but by suffering, or going through trials, we are taught how to react in negative situations, and we are trained to understand to look for the good in ourselves and in other people, regardless of the situation. This is a side note that my father didn't talk about, but it reminds me personally of Paul's statement in Philippians, "I have learned to be content in any situation." We are taught throughout the entire Bible, it seems, on the usefulness of trials and suffering.

My father pointed us back to chapter 4, in verse 12 and 13:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed."

Another version talks about the outcome of "exceeding joy." The outcome of suffering, the suffering shared with us by Christ, or that we share with Him, leads to joy when God's glory, or His plan, is revealed in us.

The class discussed several things at this point, from the point of us experiencing suffering to become better people (someone who has never experienced suffering and has everything in the world tends to be more frequently depressed than those who learn how to deal with the harshness of reality), to the necessity of giving up worrying about our suffering, and giving up on anxiety, and dwelling on our problems and sufferings. Christ did not dwell on his shortcomings, nor did he rebuke others when he was falsely accused, and the glory of his resurrection was revealed because he suffered so perfectly.

It was all exactly what I needed to hear. No, I don't consider my life any harder than the next person, but I think sometimes we forget that God doesn't give us any more than we can handle. It's sad, all the time I've wasted complaining, or "venting" to others about the problems in my life - when I really shouldn't burden other people with what I know I am able to handle all on my own. No, of course, I don't mean that people shouldn't talk about things like this with one another, or that people can't help one another - but a friend should not be a crutch, and the glory of God has an avenue through me if I'm able to understand the path that God is taking me through. I can stand on my own two feet and take what I've learned from life and use it to be a stronger person. I guess part of me used to be worried that people wouldn't care to be around me, if I was self-sufficient, if I didn't "need" them. But I have a feeling that I could be much closer to people if I realized how much I didn't "need" them. At least, it's a thought I had, listening to my Dad talk tonight.

I felt so overwhelmed tonight. Hearing the same talk about anxiety and "dwelling" versus "acting" that I've pondered over and over with a friend of mine recently, things the importance of which we both have recently discovered... it was sobering. I felt what I like to call the "over soul" seeping down over me. The knowledge that I was meant to be there and to hear that was very sobering; humbling.

I know I just have to take everything one day at a time, and continue to thank God for the time He gives me.

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