On February 15, 1947, Glenn Chambers boarded a plane bound for Quito, Ecuador to begin his ministry in missionary broadcasting.  But he never arrived.  In a horrible moment, the plane carrying Chambers crashed into a mountain peak and spiraled downward. Later it was learned that before leaving the Miami airport, Chambers wanted to write his mother a letter. All he could find for stationery was a page of advertising on which was written the single world “WHY?” Around that word he hastily scribbled a final note. After Chambers’ mother learned of her son’s death, his letter arrived. She opened the envelope, took out the paper, and unfolded it. What she found was a precious note from her now dead son. But staring her in the face in the middle of the page was the question “WHY?”

That’s the question we inevitably wrestle with whenever we pass through a season of suffering. And that is evidently the question some Christians living in the first century were wrestling with as they found themselves being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, I want to suggest that since the goal of the devil is to cause Christians to defect from their faith, he uses all kinds of suffering in our lives in order to achieve this purpose. Thus, there’s a sense in which all undeserved suffering can be considered suffering for Christ’s sake.

The bottom line is that the book of the Bible we know as 1 Peter was evidently written to encourage a group of suffering Christians to hang in there—to stand firm in their faith, and in so doing to defeat the devil and inherit an eternal reward from the hand of God.

Why do we suppose that this was the ultimate purpose of this letter?

Well, this little letter has five short chapters in it. Can you guess how many times some variation of the word “suffer” appears in it?

18 times!

Understanding that the apostle Peter’s purpose in writing this little letter was to encourage some suffering Christians to hang tough in the face of adversity helps to explain why he begins the letter with a series of important reminders.

Presented in this first section of 1 Peter are some things that Peter’s readers must constantly keep in mind if they are to overcome the suffering that God has allowed to come their way.

In the first few verses of this little letter of encouragement written to some suffering Christians, I hear the apostle Peter making the following “Don’t you dare forget” statements:

  • Don’t you dare forget how special you are to God!

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, {2} who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1 Peter 1:1-2)

Peter refers to his readers here as those who are a part of God’s chosen people! It’s a wonderful thing to be “chosen,” to be “included” isn’t it?

The opposite of being chosen is being rejected.

There is probably no pain worse than the pain of rejection, and no greater joy than the joy of being chosen, included.

So, one of the first things that Peter does in this letter of encouragement is to remind his readers of how special they are to God; He has chosen them to be a part of his forever family.

  • Don’t you dare forget that for us Christians, this life is not all there is!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, {4} and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, (1 Peter 1:3-4)

One of the great things about belonging to God’s forever family is the hope we have in our hearts that we will live with Him . . . forever! Just as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, so shall we be.

Furthermore, the clear teaching of the Bible is that the reward we will experience in the age to come, the eternal inheritance we will receive as God’s children, is well worth any amount of pain and discomfort we suffer for Christ’s sake here and now. This is a well-rehearsed theme in the writings of the New Testament (e.g., see Romans 8:16-18; Matthew 5:11-12; 16:27).

And so, Peter wrote to these suffering Christians, encouraging them to hang tough. This life is not something we should throw away or spend foolishly, but neither is it all there is. Those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ know there is something more: the hope of resurrection and of eternal reward. This thought can and should encourage us when we pass through seasons of severe suffering for Christ’s sake!

  • Don’t you dare forget that as bad as things might seem to be at this present moment, you can rejoice that God is with you, shielding you from stuff that is far worse!

[you] who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. {6} In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:5)

Peter seems to be reminding his readers here of several things:

First, while it may seem that God is a million miles away while we are passing through our season of suffering, the fact is that He is really right there with us.

Second, while it may seem that our present level of suffering is as bad as it could be, the truth is that God is actually shielding us from some painful experiences that are worse than anything we could possibly imagine.

Third, we can rest confident in the knowledge that while there is a real devil out there who would love to have his complete way with us, God will never allow that to happen!

The Bible as a whole teaches us the comforting truth that we human beings do not live our lives at the mercy of mere chance or fate; instead, there is a God in heaven who is in complete control! The Book of Job in particular makes it very clear that the devil cannot do anything to God’s children that God doesn’t allow.

But then, this begs the question: why does God sometimes allow Satan to touch his people, the way he did Job?

  • Don’t you dare forget that there is a reason why God sometimes allows His people to experience trials and tribulations that are very difficult to endure!

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. {7} These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

There is an old saying that goes like this: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

This old proverbial saying is trying to communicate to us the idea that successfully enduring the trials and tribulations we experience in life has a way of making us better, stronger people. Not only does 1 Peter suggest that God uses experiences of suffering to test us—to make us stronger—other portions of God’s Word do as well:

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)

For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. (Psalms 66:10)

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart. (Proverbs 17:3)

See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, {3} because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. {4} Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? {8} If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. {9} Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! {10} Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. {11} No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11)

According to the passages cited above …

God’s great goal is not to make us happy in this life, but to get us ready for the age to come, to make of us real people—people who possess real faith, real hope, real love—the kind of people He can live in and with forever, the kind of people he can entrust his eternal kingdom to.

Evidently Peter assumed that his readers would be motivated and encouraged by the thought that God was at work in their lives precisely in the midst of their suffering.

  • Don’t you dare forget that it certainly is possible for you, despite your suffering, to continue loving and believing in a Jesus you’ve never seen, and to experience a remarkable, supernatural joy in the process!

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, {9} for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

According to this passage, there is a grace we can receive from God that allows us to experience a special, profound sense of spiritual well-being despite the suffering we are experiencing at the time.

I’m not talking here about a mere acquiescence to, or a stoic acceptance of, painful circumstances.

I’m talking about a radical confidence in God’s love and plan for our lives that sets us free to experience a radical, inexplicable, irrational kind of joy.

In his book Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, the late Henri Nouwen wrote:

          I have a friend who radiates joy, not because his life is easy, but because he habitually recognizes God’s presence in the midst of all human suffering, his own as well as others’. … My friend’s joy is contagious. The more I am with him, the more I catch glimpses of the sun shining through the clouds. Yes, I know there is a sun, even though the skies are covered with clouds. While my friend always spoke about the sun, I kept speaking about the clouds, until one day I realized that it was the sun that allowed me to see the clouds.

          Those who keep speaking about the sun while walking under a cloudy sky are messengers of hope, the true saints of our day.                                                                

I have met a few saints in my day—people who spoke of the sun while all I could see in their life was the clouds.

I want to become such a person. Don’t you?

The good news is that the apostle Peter says it’s possible.

I suspect that someday someone will stumble across this blog at a time in their lives when they will need to be made aware of the five “Don’t you dare forget” statements that I find Peter articulating in the introduction to his letter to some suffering Christians.

Are you that someone? Is this that time?

If so, I hope this reflection on what the apostle Peter had to say about suffering helps you, if only just a little, as you engage in your own wrestling with the why.

Be encouraged.