And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
It’s pointed out in this passage, that the suffering referred to is the kind many of us in the west, and perhaps particularly in America know little or more likely nothing at all about. Unless one is caught up in the culture wars, which in my way of thinking has little or nothing to do with true Christianity and the faith, perhaps with some exceptions here and there. But every believer, regardless of where they live, is subject to harrassment from the spiritual enemy which often works through other humans; in fact we can all end up on the playing field for good or for ill in that way. If this passage applied only to believers who are threatened and to some extent experience physical persecution, then it would have no application to many of us today. But it does have direct application today to many sisters and brothers throughout the world who are suffering persecution just because they are Christians, including martyrdom.
As followers of Christ and one body in him as the church, we need to arm ourselves with the attitude that we are going to suffer, so that we might as well accept that. In fact this attitude needs to become a part of our psyche in our spiritual development and pilgrimage in this world in Christ. This same letter from Peter tells us that.
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
It is good to read what follows this (see link). In fact, better yet to read the entire letter, which actually isn’t long. Reading through it will bring up questions, but read it in mind with the teaching on suffering. We have to remember the context into which the Bible was written. There is inevitably an accomodation which occurred then, and continues to occur now, as we apply the gospel to our culture and world, and see the changes that gospel will inevitably bring over time.
But back to the first reading above. We need to accept and even learn to embrace by faith the hardest of times which we’re going through, refusing to flinch from such, since we know the outcome. Of course doing so with the “means of grace” God provides through scripture and the church, the word and the sacraments. God’s will give us a peace which is not merely some escape from the storm, but an ability to live well through the storm, both in terms of its aftermath, as well as the inevitablity of more such in this life. There does seem to be a closure here. But that closure is not so much in terms of relief from sufferings in this life, in fact arguably not so at all. But more in terms of God’s working in our lives in and through Christ to help us not only survive through them, but actually flourish.
Words can be cheap (and too often are), and there’s no doubt that this is not anything we would wish for on our own. But it’s reality, and if we’re going to live in the reality in Christ, then we have to accept both that reality, and God’s provision for us through it in Christ. And when we do so, we have God’s promise. A promise which can help us stand firm in the midst of the experience of such sufferings, as we carry on in the existence of the world, the flesh and the devil, with the help that comes from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That God might always and forever be exalted and glorified, even in this life, in and through Christ Jesus our Lord.