Suffering and Judgement
Personally, I don’t really like the idea of suffering, even for a good cause. It is a brave person who prays – ‘Lord, make me suffer so that you will get the glory!’
I wonder, what the original readers of 1 Peter might have been thinking as they contemplated all the different kinds of suffering that might lie before them. Like us, I am sure they would have been uncertain.
Peter, seems to have understood that uncertainty and offers some perspective by looking at the role judgement plays in suffering.
‘For it is time for judgement to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’’ (1 Peter 4:17-18)
There is a theological truth exposed here – judgement involves everyone. It starts with the family of God, so it starts with Christians, and then it continues until all are judged.
The purpose of judgement is not only to point out what is bad and wrong, but it is also to point out what is good and right. If someone does a wrong by you, the judgement against them is also a judgement for you. It shows them to be in error and it shows you to be right.
The good news for those who had heard and accepted the gospel, is that although Christians experience the judgement of God, so do those who oppose God. If it is tough for the righteous, then it will be even tougher for the ungodly.
Unbelievers don’t suffer for faith in Jesus (because they have none), but what Peter points out is that they will still be judged, and without Jesus, they will not be saved.
That means that for persecuted Christians, judgement will put things right and the wrong that has been directed toward them will be dealt with eventually. God’s judgement will leave those who have persecuted the family of God with little to stand upon.
Let us dig a little deeper.
Peter quotes Proverbs 11:31 which reads ‘If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner!’. Going back to the original quote helps us to see the intent behind what Peter is trying to teach. It is not that there is doubt behind the salvation of those who have been trying to live righteously (‘if it is hard for the righteous to be saved’), but that as the righteous live out their faith – it is hard. The experience of suffering on earth, although at points is tough, is part of the judgement of God. In other words, the consequences of judgement are felt to some degree while Christians still live on earth.
That may very well mean that the suffering Christians experience on earth (even at the hands of others) is part of the judgement of God! But, that experience of judgement is limited to what is experienced on earth. It is a different story for those who have rejected God – they experience the consequence of God’s judgement both now and later!
The Apostle Paul in Romans 1 describes the judgment of God against ‘all the godlessness and wickedness of people who suppress the truth by their wickedness’ (Romans 1:18). His judgment was experienced in the present as ‘God gave them over to the sinful desires of their hearts’ (1:24), and as ‘God gave them over to shameful lusts’ (1:26) and as ‘God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done’ (1:28). The consequence of sin, of rebellion, is experienced not just at the end of time, but in the present time.
Consider what that means for the righteous ones who live in this same world – while judgement is being experienced in the world, there will be suffering!
In the garden of Gethsemane, shortly before he was arrested and knowing that he would die, Jesus prayed:
‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done’ (Matthew 26:42)
Jesus didn’t like suffering either! To pray that if it was possible that the cup, the suffering, could be taken away, but if not, that God’s will might be done regardless is a prayer which demonstrates the trust Jesus the Son had in God his Father.
Peter finishes his chapter encouraging believers to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus:
‘So then, those who suffer according to God’s will, should commit themselves to their faithful creator and continue to do good’. (1 Peter 4:19 c.f. 4:1)
When Christians suffer with the same attitude as Christ, they do that according to God’s will. They commit themselves to their faithful Creator, and while they wait they continue to do the good that he calls them to do.
For more in this Series:
Resilient in Suffering
If you are going to live for Christ, are you willing to make a stand?
Living for Christ will involve Suffering!
Strategies for Resilience in Suffering
Suffering and Judgement
How does a Christian become more resilient in suffering?