There was never a greater crisis of faith for the disciples as when their Lord was crucified on the cross; but God has never been more at work in that very moment of weakness and suffering of his very Son!
Recently a close relative hosted a believing family who visited Bangalore to treat their five-year-old daughter for a few weeks. The little one had been suffering from bone cancer, enduring an indescribable amount of pain. Doctors advised bone marrow transplant. All the tests for compatibility cleared the father as the donor. The surgeries on both the father and his darling daughter were carried out on the next day satisfactorily. But within a few days, the child got infected, and she did not recover. Watching the little one’s funeral was one of the most heartbreaking experiences in recent times.
During the course of the treatment of their child, they also found out that the mother is at the fourth stage of bone cancer herself. The intensity of their trial is all the more because they are a very young family in the Lord.
I took time to reflect on how we Christians grapple with the reality of suffering, especially those that come to us due to no apparent fault of ours. Why would God allow the curse of suffering to come upon His own children, especially because Christ has paid for the curse of sin? The subject is awfully perplexing and yet what the Scripture has to offer is both assuring and rewarding.
Let me share with you five of the many New Testament truths that I came across about why the suffering of Christians is not a curse, but a blessing!
Suffering is a Test of Our Faith
Almost every paragraph of 1 Peter has something to say about Christian suffering. In addition to the general sufferings of the world, the ridicule and scorn, and being ill-treated, the apostle Peter anticipated the state-sponsored persecution that was imminent on these believers. The set of instructions given to the believers to submit to various non-Chrisitan authorities (2:13-3:6) underscores this situation.
He begins the letter by warning the church not to be surprised by various sufferings (1:6-7). Strong encouragement is given to us to be prepared in the light of the coming “fiery trials.” Peter gives the first theological reason for our sufferings. “The tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire” (1 Pet 1:7a). It is a test of our faith, a faith that endures in spite of the trials, faith that will “result in praise and glory and honour” (v.7b).
Suffering Signifies Our Union with Christ
Peter reminds his readers not to be surprised at the fiery trials (4:12ff.). Instead, he says we are to rejoice in them. The second reason why we suffer as Christians and can rejoice in our suffering is that it signifies our union with Christ: “to the degree that you share (fellowship, koinonia) the sufferings of Christ” (v.13a NASB). “Their sufferings are not a sign of God’s absence but his purifying presence.”1 This too will result in our joy and exultation at the coming of Christ … so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation (v.13b).