Why Christians Suffer

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  • So often people make remarks such as, “Isn’t it strange how God allows such awful things to happen-and she’s such a good person.” So far I’ve found twelve explanations in scripture. It isn’t all mystery, though of course God’s permission of evil in the world is fathomless to us mortals. He has told us all we need to know, however, about the why’s, and I hope to write about each of the answers in forthcoming issues. 

    The apostle Peter writes, “My friends, do not be bewildered by the fiery ordeal that is upon you, as though it were something extraordinary. It gives you a share in Christ’s sufferings, and that is cause for joy.” (1 Pt 4: 12-13 New English Bible)

    When we remember that Peter was writing his letter to exiles, we can try to imagine all the various kinds of suffering that involved. Peter had been through a few mills himself, and understood deeply how they were feeling, and the quite natural human tendency to be bewildered when you’re in the middle of trouble. Don’t be, he says. He does not deny that it is “fiery.” He calls it an ordeal. That’s honest. But he tells them it’s nothing out of the ordinary. It is what all of us ought to expect, in one form or another, as long as we’re following Christ. What else should we expect? He said we would have to give up the right to ourselves, take up His cross, and follow. He said we would have to enter the Kingdom “through much tribulation.” We bargained for a steep and narrow road–why should we be bewildered to find it steep and narrow? The thrilling, heart-lifting truth which Peter speaks of is that in this very “ordeal,” whatever it is, we are being granted an unspeakably high privilege: a share in Christ’s sufferings, and that, Peter says, is cause for joy. 

    Sometimes people wonder how on earth their kind of trouble can possibly have anything to do with Christ’s sufferings. Ours are certainly nothing in comparison with His. We are not being crucified. Our burden is certainly not the weight of the sins of the world. No. But in all our afflictions He is afflicted. We are together in them. If we receive them in faith-faith that they are permitted by a Father who loves us, faith that He has an eternal purpose in them-we can offer them back to Him for His transforming. If, like Paul, we want to know Him and the power of His resurrection, we must also know the fellowship of His sufferings. The only way to enter that fellowship is to suffer. Can we say Yes, Lord even to that?

    **Excerpt originally published in the Jan/Feb 1984 Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter.