Out in the Cold
Having experienced a bit of suffering in my life, may I let you in on a little secret about suffering? It's not pleasant. In fact, suffering stinks. All suffering. I'm not in favor of comparing suffering, so let's agree that—whether your suffering is related to financial hardship, marriage/family issues, health, grief and loss, etc.—suffering stinks. That's why, when I recently read from 1 Peter 4, the apostle's words were arresting. "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed," (vv. 12-13). For someone who has endured heart-wrenching trials, this passage is like a bucket of ice water poured all over you.
Don't be surprised at trial? Why NOT; we're never given warning that trials are coming!
Don't believe something strange is happening? Easier said than done!
Rejoice? In pain and grief? Are you a sadist?
Be glad? Yeah, right.
I cannot help but be a pragmatist when I read Scripture, and these are my thoughts. So what does Peter really expect us to take away from his words? Let me offer this for your consideration.
Suffering SEEMS so strange because it is so much at odds with what we WANT. What we WANT out of life is security and comfort and joy, and it SEEMS that suffering hijacks this in the most grotesque ways.
Close your eyes for a moment. When you do, I want you to imagine when in your life you feel most secure, comfortable, and happy. What scene comes to your consciousness? What memory is conjured? In a given day, when are you the happiest?
I could be pious and tell you my happiest moments of comfort and security are when I'm with my family or playing with my girls or something else that would warm James Dobson's heart. But I'm gonna be honest instead of pious in this moment.
I'm happiest and my most comfortable in those early morning hours when I've become slightly awake, but not enough to get up. I don't have anywhere to be at a certain time. No flight to catch. My bed is soft and warm, especially if Sara is sleeping next to me. The house is quiet. Maybe I get up and, in the early morning quiet, I drink my coffee and read a book or the Bible and meditate and pray in my favorite chair. Or maybe I continue to doze. But this, to me, is a most perfect definition of shalom.
And because of that, I've never understood why people would leave a perfectly warm, soft bed so early in the morning to go out and do something as stupid as try to shoot a deer. I have nothing against shooting animals. But you won't catch me doing it in the cold and at such an obviously God-forsaken hour! (To my friends who love to hunt, please do not let this prevent you from bringing me your delicious venison).
Believe it or not, however, there is something that gets me out of a perfectly warm bed and an ungodly hour, and that's an opportunity to photograph the sunrise from a stunning vista. I love visiting National Parks to witness the beauty God paints with each dawn's early light. More than a few times, I've stood outside, in temperatures that were in single or negative digits, long before daybreak, in the middle of nowhere, waiting and hoping for something dramatic to happen. More than a few times, I've been rewarded. My passion for landscape photography has taught me that in order to witness something glorious, you have to be prepared. You have to be in the right spot. You have to be ready. You have to be watching.
And this has experience has informed my response to suffering. I still don't like it. I still struggle with being surprised by it, though Peter says we aren't to be. But I know of what he speaks in v. 13, that we can rejoice because we know what is imminent. That suffering in and of itself is nothing to embrace, but rather it is to be celebrated for what it signals—the revelation of God's glory. I don't enjoy getting up and out of bed at 3 or 4 am. I don't enjoy standing out in the dark in freezing, single digit temps. But I know that I ought to embrace it in order to experience a stunning, thrilling sunrise.
I don't enjoy suffering. I don't enjoy grief. I don't want pain to become the new normal of my life. But when it comes my way, I know I ought to embrace it in order to experience God doing something wondrous before my very eyes. That's why suffering is a cause to rejoice and be glad: God is about to do something incredible, and we have a chance to witness it all.