Often the moments of life we feel most helpful are when sitting with friends or family who are suffering. What’s the first thing you say to someone in your life who’s experiencing significant grief or has received tragic news? How do you talk to a loved one feeling wounded or fragile or threatened? Where do you start?
Peter wrote to friends facing intense suffering and opposition (1 Peter 1:6; 2:18–19; 3:8–9). They were hurting, and more pain was apparently on the way. So how did Peter start his letter?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5)
Peter doesn’t begin with compassionate sympathy or sorrow, but with a bold cry of victory and a song of worship. He minimizes the pain, it seems, by raising the eyes of his readers above and beyond their suffering to God and his plan to rescue and satisfy them forever.
To twenty-first-century consciences, that might seem insensitive. Our counseling and sensitivity conditioning say we should be quiet, somber, and apologetic in this situation. Peter presents a different approach. In fact, his next words are, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). Peter takes the potential of lifelong pain — perhaps violent, even fatal — and persecution, and makes it sound like just a bad day, maybe a week — “a little while.”
Do Not Play with Pain
Some of us desperately need to be told to be slow to speak (James 1:19), and gentle when speaking (Titus 3:2), and slow to declare answers or solutions (Proverbs 18:13). The quick-to-speak, slow-to-feel folks among us need help to keep from reopening the wounds or driving the cuts deeper with insensitivity or a lack of compassion. Pain, of whatever kind, is real, vulnerable, and delicate. Good intentions, good theology, and even good news can be dangerous weapons in the hands of the thoughtless, oblivious, or inconsiderate.
We should tread carefully with the broken and bruised. We need the Spirit to help us determine what to say when, with what tone, and in what context.
But Peter still wrote his letter the way he did, not timid and cautious, but bold, confident, and definitive. And we all know that ultimately the way forward in suffering pain is not in making much of the pain itself, but in making much of the cure.
An Infinite Future for the Fragile
If we’re to follow Peter’s example, we need to look at how he ministers to the suffering. What does Christian love look like in the face of terrible pain? In love, Peter leads with heartfelt worship, then rehearses the promise of an everlasting treasure, and then points to a bigger perspective of God’s purpose in pain — all meant to shrink pain’s terrifying, paralyzing hold on believers.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” is more than a shout of worship; it’s a battle cry against the darkness and opposition and grief of this world. It’s an emphatic reminder of God’s supremacy to believers who might become blinded by suffering in their lives. It’s a call to wake up from the stupor of pain into hope and worship.
And the battle cry comes with a promise: You have an infinite treasure beyond your imagining (1 Peter 1:4). This inheritance will never die or expire (“imperishable”). It can’t be used up. It’s not tainted or polluted in any way (“undefiled”). It will be perfectly true and safe and pure and good. And it’s unfading. Our hope in eternity is living, vibrant, and filled with ever-renewing love, joy, and peace forever — always stronger, always deeper, never fading. And this glorious inheritance doesn’t come in money, real estate, or property, but in more of God himself (Psalm 16:5–6).
The Hidden Purpose in Our Pain
Having given his passionate and compelling war cry to worship, and having anchored every believer’s hope in an infinite, imperishable, undefiled, and unfading future treasure in heaven, Peter zooms out on these believers’ pain. What is God really doing in all the things we suffer?
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6–7)
Peter doesn’t minimize their pain by suggesting it’s not a big deal, but by showing them that God is at work in their pain and has a bigger purpose for it than they can see right now. As Christians, we don’t minimize pain by making light of it, but by making much of God and all he plans and promises to do through the suffering. As we see more of God, and remember more of the good he’s accomplishing in every wound, the pain loses its power to cripple and to discourage us. It still hurts, but the harm is suddenly meaningful and, in comparison with eternity, momentary.
A Popular Approach to Pain
Peter’s not the only apostle to treat pain this way in the Bible. Paul, speaking to Corinthian believers who were suffering from opposition in the world and affliction in their bodies, says,
We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:16–17)
He calls their affliction “light” and “momentary” (2 Corinthians 4:17). How could he say that? Some of the Corinthians may have suffered sickness or alienation or slander their whole lives. He can speak that way by comparison. All the evil and anguish they have suffered is as nothing — light and momentary — compared with everything coming to them in glory, the never-ending enjoyment of an infinite God.
In Romans, again knowing some of his readers were experiencing excruciating pain — trials, persecution, the deterioration of their own bodies — Paul says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). The suffering feels massive, unbearable, and never-ending in the moment, but it doesn’t even register a measurement against the promise of an eternity with God.
Peter and Paul perhaps give us a new way forward in the midst of pain. Yes, we need to be slow to speak, gentle, and compassionate, never presuming. But true compassion and love are never ashamed of or shy about the news God has given us for every pain. We must know the bigness of our God, the heights of his love, and the detailed ways he cares for us if we’re going to endure pain with brilliant and unshakeable hope and joy before the world around us.