Tuesday of Trinity 25 – 1 Peter 3:13-22

Tuesday of Trinity 25 – 1 Peter 3:13-22 November 18, 2013

Crown of Thorns - photo by Vectorportal1 Peter 3:13-22 

What’s the answer to the problem of suffering?  Sanctify the Lord in your heart.

Like St. James and St. Paul and Jesus Himself – pretty much the whole New Testament – St. Peter assumes that there will be suffering in this world for the Christian.  Theologically, there is the so-called problem of suffering, as in “How can there be suffering in this world if there is a good and loving Almighty God?”

I’m interested in the problem of suffering from a much more practical standpoint and that is this: given that there will be suffering in this world for the Christian, how should we deal with it?

The first thing I’d like to express about Christian suffering is that what Satan, the world, and the flesh mean for evil and results in our suffering, God means for good.  This is the place to begin with suffering, not with our suffering or its causes but with God Himself.

A second point that I think will help us relate to our suffering more profitably is to understand that all of our suffering is a potential means to our redemption.  What I mean is that sometimes we get the notion that Peter and other New Testament writers are only addressing a “saintly” or special kind of suffering, the suffering of martyrdom or persecution that comes from a very visible stand we take for Christ.  It certainly seems as if this is what is most in Peter’s or Jesus’ mind sometimes, but I don’t believe this is the limit to their teaching on suffering.  If that were the case, then most of what they say would not relate to most of what we experience.

I believe that all of the New Testament teaching on suffering can be applied to all of our suffering, if that suffering is understood and received in the context of our relationship to Jesus Christ, even if the suffering is not directly caused by our visible stand taken for Christ.

What if we applied the biblical teaching on suffering to every bit of suffering in our lives, no matter how seemingly insignificant or ordinary or “secular”?  I think we’d live radically altered and more joyful lives.  If we understood all of our suffering as something Jesus is in the process of redeeming, beginning with His own suffering on the Cross, we’d see a lot more of our lives and the cosmos redeemed and singing, even while in suffering.

Knowing as we do that it is often suffering that most leads us back to God, what wonderful opportunities to come back to the Lord await us each day if we took each pain, discomfort, ache, malady, suffering, heartbreak, lament, discouragement, etc. as yet one more path back to our Lord?

What is the answer to the question of how to deal with suffering?  I think it’s in verse 15, where Peter says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.”  Peter says this immediately after he quotes Isaiah 8:12 on not being afraid of their threats.  How can we withstand the threats of the Enemy or enemies and make the most profitable use of our sufferings with joy and courage?  By sanctifying the Lord in our hearts.

There are several ways to do this.

First, we can sanctify Him by acknowledging Him to be the Lord who reigns from heaven.  Jesus Christ, who suffered for us, has gone into heaven, the first human to do so, and is at the right hand of God.  What’s He doing there?  He’s reigning, and all angels and authorities and powers have been made subject to Him (verse 22).  If you are ever tempted, as I often am, to dwell in fear and discouragement, then the first thing you should do is to sanctify the Lord in your heart by remembering that He is in heaven ruling.  That good, loving, all-powerful God we believe in and stake our lives on is in charge of your life.  He knows your suffering, of whatever variety it is today, and desires to use it as a means to bring you into closer union with Him.

Second, “who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?” (verse 13).  Having sanctified the Lord by acknowledging His goodness and reign, having turned back to Him with my heart, what is there left in the universe that can really and truly hurt me?  I’m not saying that merely because we turn back to God He’ll take His mighty arms and turn off the pain spigot in our lives.

But I do mean that if we are right with God, the one person we should truly fear is no longer to be feared, at least not as a punisher or inflictor of judgment.  The safest place to be in the universe, in fact the only truly safe place to be, is in the loving arms of God.  But let’s not forget that the Son returned to the loving arms of the Father only after He died on the Cross.

Having sanctified the Lord in our hearts, what else is there to be troubled about?  All that’s left is the fear of the pain and the suffering itself.  And even this, if I’ve sanctified the Lord in my heart and am now consciously living in His presence, is only the most powerful means I know of being turned back to Him!  Sure, I’m not too crazy about the pain and suffering itself, but if I bear it with Him because I’ve come back to Him, then I can find joy and peace, even in pain.

If I’m righteous and accept all my suffering in faith, it will lead me to Christ, the very place I want to be.  “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”  Just as the sufferings of Jesus Christ brought us to God, so my suffering, if united with His, will bring me closer to God.

A large part of my pain, however, is in knowing, even though subconsciously sometimes, that I have betrayed my Lord.  A lot of my fear in things not going right in this life is in my worry that it might be because I have not been faithful.  Even more of it comes because I take my suffering upon myself without turning to the Lord to help me.  That’s when the suffering becomes unbearable and I feel like a wimpy Atlas whom the world is about to flatten.

So, then, Satan, the world, and the flesh mean all of your suffering for evil, to take you away from the Lord.  But even though the suffering in itself is not good, God transforms it into the very means by which He brings you closer to Him.

What’s the answer to the problem of suffering?  Sanctify the Lord in your heart.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, You created me and most lovingly care for me. I accept all my sufferings most willingly, and as a truly obedient child I resign myself to your holy will. Grant me the strength to accept generously your loving visitation, and never let me grieve your faithful heart by giving in to impatience and discouragement.  Lord Jesus, for love of You I desire to suffer all things, because for love of me You endured such cruel torments.  Jesus, I unite my pains with the ones which You suffered, and I make an offering of them to Father. O Jesus, out of the abundance of your divine goodness give me the virtues of meekness and patience, so that I may willingly carry my cross after You.  Amen.

Point for Meditation: 

1.  Pay attention to the suffering in your life today.  In what forms does it come?  How much have you been sanctifying the Lord in your suffering and drawing near to Him? 

2.  Is there suffering in your life that you have been ignoring?  If so, allow God to use that suffering as a means to come to Him. 

Resolution:  I resolve to meditate on one kind of suffering in my life and consciously use it as a means of bringing me closer to God.  I resolve to respond with joy and peace, even in my suffering. 

© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson

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