"But God shows undeserved kindness to everyone. That’s why he appointed Christ Jesus to choose you to share in his eternal glory.
You will suffer for a while, but God will make you complete, steady, strong, and firm."
1 Peter 5:10 (CEV)
This verse is bursting with encouragement and contains some truly epic themes. (What's more epic than eternal glory?) There is one little word, though - one sharp thorn among the blooms of kindness, glory and strength:
How can God's kindness be in the same verse as suffering? We have been taught to think of suffering as something to be rejected and resisted - that all suffering is bad. A God who allows suffering must, therefore, also be bad. This kind of over-simplified thinking is not helpful or healthy. For one thing, it rushes to the conclusion that God is bad before we've even paused to ask, 'Can anything good come out of suffering?'
Think of someone who has truly inspired you.
Did they face some kind of adversity, injustice, or suffering?
Has their pain broughtthem hard-won strength?
Has their experience led to something good that wouldn't have happened otherwise?
In many cases, I suspect that your answer would be 'yes.'
When it comes to suffering, I'm not talking about the kind of suffering that we, as a species, inflict upon each other and then complain to God about. Like any good parent, God expects us to clean up our own mess and to look out for our brothers and sisters (i.e. everyone) - especially the most disadvantaged. Setting that aside, though, there are still plenty of other ways that sufferinginfiltrates our lives, most of which come as the result of things we can't control. Even though we know we’re not in control, however, we still resist and reject suffering. Inevitably this wrestling exhausts and frustrates us, leading us into a downward spiral. It's not the suffering that is pulling us down so much as our struggle against it. Suffering that has a clear purpose or adefinitive time-frame is easier to endure but, in God’ economy, nothing is wasted. Not even suffering. (There may be times when our reaction to our suffering can slip beyond our control or become too big to handle on our own - if that's where you find yourself, please find yourself some professional help.)
In 1 Peter 5:10, we can see the shape of the Gospel echoed in just a few words. In the CEV (above), it all begins with grace, passes through suffering, and ends with glory and 'completeness.' There is abundant grace and there is eternal glory, but there is also suffering. I haven't yet found any references to a VIP pass that allows us to shortcut this intervening stage.
The path that Jesus took to eternal glory was through suffering. He did not reject or resist it, except for those moments spent wrestling with His Father at Gethsemane (Where we see how truly human He is - not just like us, but one of us!). Instead, Jesus moved through suffering to completeness, pioneering the way that we now follow. As Paul agrees in Romans 8:17, "...we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."
We think of suffering as something that lays us low but, in God's recipe for life, suffering is a raising agent. After all, suffering was Christ's route to resurrection.
Towards the end of our chosen verse, Peter creates a fascinating word-picture that I find evocative of the popular TV show, The Repair Shop. In this show, beloved heirlooms that have suffered the ravages of time and decay are placed into the hands of expert repairers and restorers. These artisans carefully and lovingly take things apart and put them back together in a way that returns strength, stability, mobility and life to the beleaguered objects, giving them a new and beautiful lease of life.
The original language behind the words 'complete, steady, strong, and firm' in 1 Peter 5:10 carry a sense of being 'put back together', 'fixed solidly', 'made strong for effective movement' and 'firmly established.' Sounds a lot like the Repair Shop, don't you think? If we allow it to, suffering can lay us in the hands of God-the-Master-Restorer like nothing else. It breaks down our illusion of control and encourages us to make room for divine direction in our lives. We can do this by entrusting the outcome to the 'undeserved kindness that God shows to everyone' - God has inexhaustible expertise in applying grace and healing to human brokenness. If we surrender to this process, the result of our suffering will not diminish us or make us less-than as we once feared it would. In the hands of God, suffering creates the conditions for us to be made more 'complete, steady, strong and firm' as we travel through it in a resurrection direction.