In days of darkness, God regularly delivers his comfort and strength to us through four simple words: “I am with you.”
I am with you. The promise comes to God’s fearful people across time and testaments: to Isaac in Beersheba (Genesis 26:24), Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:12), David in the valley (Psalm 23:4), the disciples as he commissions them (Matthew 28:20). The living God knows what we need most in our deepest distress: not answers, but the promise of his presence.
And yet, the power of this promise rises only as high as our knowledge of the one who gives it. The presence of a vague Benevolence is of little help when suffering steals toward us. And so, God not only promises his people that he is with them; he also reminds them of who he is.
When we walk through the valley of deep darkness, defenseless as a sheep, he calls himself Shepherd (Psalm 23:4). When we lie face down, overpowered by enemies too strong for us, he calls himself Redeemer (Isaiah 43:14). And when we feel small, vulnerable and afflicted in a dangerous world, he calls himself Creator: “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).
Our Faithful Creator
Small, vulnerable, and afflicted describes how many must have felt when they received the letter we know as 1 Peter. Already “grieved by various trials,” they did not know where suffering’s shadow would descend next (1 Peter 1:6; 4:12). They were the threefold target of a world that maligned them, a flesh that besieged them, and a devil that stalked them (1 Peter 4:4; 2:11; 5:8).
Into that fear, uncertainty, and pain, Peter speaks a promise. He has already assured them that they are “God’s people,” heirs of the pledge “I am with you” (1 Peter 2:10). Now, he lifts their eyes above their trials, above their enemies, even above all heaven and earth, to remind them that that God who calls them “My people” is also their “faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19).
“Know this, my brothers and sisters,” Peter says in effect, “The God who walks with you, who hems you in behind and before, is not only your Savior, Redeemer, and Lord, but also the Maker of the mountains, the Crafter of the skies.” And for those bought by the blood of Jesus, this Creator is not only mighty, but faithful — even to the smallest, most vulnerable, most afflicted among his people.
Sovereign over Creation
If we embrace God as our faithful Creator in our suffering, we will begin to find two unmoving rocks beneath our feet. First, God governs all creation from the highest to the lowest, from the farthest to the nearest — from the orbits of moons in unseen galaxies to the shadows of leaves in our front yard.
The suffering of Peter’s audience may have seemed frustratingly random. So too with our own suffering: cruel spouses and false “friends,” careening cars and spreading viruses may seem, by all appearances, ungoverned: arbitrary menaces in an arbitrary world. But here, Peter reminds us that behind every creature, animate and inanimate, stands a Creator — a Creator so involved in the details of his world that suffering reaches us only if he, in his wisdom and lovingkindness, deems “necessary” (1 Peter 1:6; 3:17).
Just as God says to the seas, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11), so too he says to our suffering. No slander cuts, no tumor grows, no arrow flies, and no plague spreads a millimeter farther than the Almighty decrees. To each, God says, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther” — and creation is bound to obey.
Suffering can thwart our Creator’s sovereign rule as soon as the sun flies from its course, or the seasons refuse to arrive, or the molecules stop hearing the word of him who upholds the universe (Hebrews 1:3).
Sovereign over Us
God’s sovereignty as Creator extends not only over the creation around us, however, but also over us. Our souls, which often feel so fragile, are in the arms of Omnipotence. And no suffering can reach into those arms to snatch the people God protects.
“By God’s power,” Peter writes, “[you] are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). In all afflictions, fears, sorrows, and uncertainties, the power of God is garrisoned about our souls, guarding and keeping us — not from the suffering itself, but from anything in the suffering that would ultimately destroy us. He is our Creator twice over — once by birth, twice by new birth (1 Peter 1:3, 23) — and he will not forsake the work of his hands.
Such is the power that undergirds the promise at the end of Peter’s letter: “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). After we have suffered through the “little while” of this life, our Creator will bend down to the dust once again and put his breath back in to the children of man. Then paralyzed legs will walk again, blind eyes will see again, scarred skin will feel again. Then the pieces of every broken heart will be put back together; then will every wound, seen and unseen, be bound up for eternity.
Our Creator has every ability — indeed, every intention — to make all things new, and to place us in a world where suffering has no home.
Servants with Scarred Hands
When you meet the kind of Christians who trust God as their faithful Creator, you will know it. Such saints have a mark they cannot hide. Not only do they walk through suffering with an abiding peace in Jesus; they also walk through suffering with an eye toward others: “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
Having entrusted their fragile souls to the safekeeping of a faithful Creator, they have found the courage to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives, hand them to Jesus, and trust that he is still able to take what is broken and use it to nourish multitudes. They may speak comfort with a tremble in their voice, or reach out to another with scarred hands, or serve with wounds that cannot been seen and cannot be fully healed in this life. But they still speak, still reach, still serve, bringing the treasure of God to others in a jar of clay.
Why? Because the Creator of the stars keeps them as the apple of his eye. Because the Architect of the earth counts their every hair. Because the Maker of the mountains holds their souls in the hollow of his hand. And with him they are safe.