Suffering and God’s Rest

Scripture: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. 

Reflection: Peter sees the whole global Christian community suffering through unjust mistreatment, violence, lack of access to food, health care, housing, and the basic human freedoms and necessities of life. He sees his community restless, on the verge of despair and hopelessness, tempted to abandon their faith. 

Peter tells the Christian community that they, like all other Christians throughout the world, are all simultaneously experiencing suffering of one sort or another. Their experience of suffering is not unique to their particular community, although they may believe that it is. He says, “for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering (1 Peter 5:9).” 

Peter does not minimize or romanticize suffering or the pathema (Gk) that the community is experiencing. Peter understands that suffering is real, brutal, and deadly because he has seen his Lord Jesus Christ suffer from rejection and ridicule and he has seen his Lord suffer and die on a torturous cross. Suffering for Peter is not an abstraction or a topic of detached conversation. Suffering is visceral. It takes a toll on the body, mind, and soul. Peter knows suffering firsthand (Acts 5:17-42). 

He encourages his community by reminding them that in their suffering, they are blessed because the Spirit of God rests on them. It is the spirit of God that leads them to seek the grace of God with humility so they can be strong in God’s strength to endure. The Spirit generates their trust in God with their troubles and cares. The Spirit sustains them through the discipline of prayer, fasting, study, worship and gathering as a community of faith. The Spirit keeps them alert to new possibilities God opens. And, the Spirit uses the pain of shared suffering to unite the community, producing the collective resolve to resist the pressures to abandon their hope. Finally, the Spirit and power of God restores, supports, strengthens, and establishes them in their nowness and temporality of their suffering and forever. 

Peter’s words of encouragement to his suffering community are timely for us now, not only as a Christian community experiencing the devastating impacts of the coronavirus at local levels, but for all of the suffering and quarantined human community throughout the world. As a global community, we are all in this together as we collectively face this coronavirus pandemic that has caused human suffering of various kinds. The whole human race is all in need of God’s Spirit of rest and blessings for strength to endure, care for our anxious souls, nearness, unity, resolve to resist despair, and confidence in a future with hope and faith.

Prayer: Shelter Me by Michael Joncas 

1. Shepherd and sheep, my God and I:
          to fresh green fields you led my steps in days gone by.
          You gave me rest by quiet springs
          And filled my soul with peace your loving presence brings.
Refrain:  O shelter me, O shelter me: the way ahead is dark and difficult to see.
               O shelter me, O shelter me: all will be well if only you will shelter me.
     2. Yet now I tread a different way:
         Death dogs my path with stealthy steps from day to day.
         I cannot find your peaceful place,
         but dwell in dreary darkness longing for your face.  (Refrain)
    3.  I will look back in days to come,
         and realize your faithfulness has led me home.
         Within your house I’ll find my peace,
         trusting that in your mercy you have sheltered me.  (Refrain)

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