Tuesday, February 14, 2017


In my childhood and youth we picked a daisy and tore off its petals one by one chanting: “He (she) loves me...loves me not...loves me...loves me not...” Whichever final petal we ended up with, that was the true answer.

Let's change that question a bit: “Do I deserve it...or not...deserve it...or not...?” Deserve what? The particular trial, crisis, trauma or suffering that I (or you) are going through.

Unfortunately, that isn't even the right question. To deserve something presupposes that justice will be done in this time and age and human circumstances in which we are living. Justice is not being served despite an abundance of laws and enforcers. Unjust and undeserved things are going on all the time. Genuine justice is reserved for God's judgment in our eternal state. In this life we should not expect things to “be fair” or justice served.

This blog post is going to be somewhat serious and soaked with Scripture references. It is too vital a topic not to dig deeply into Scripture to be sure we are on solid biblical ground. Suffering of one kind or another is always with us and we do well to question where it comes from and why and how I am to respond. This brief study can't be exhaustive, only a beginning to try to understand what mankind has questioned from the beginning of time: why do the godly suffer?

Many passages of Scripture, especially in the New Testament in the Gospels and Apostolic Letters, deal with our suffering and the reasons for it and the responses that God expects from us. The wisdom of the apostle Peter should be authoritative. He grappled with it in his first letter and seemed to separate our suffering into several different categories. They are not equal and do not rise from the same circumstances or actions. He sets the stage by telling us “not to think it strange, be surprised, amazed and bewildered” [in different translations of the text] at whatever we are going through. It is normal, simply par for the course, when we signed on, as it were, to follow Christ. “Even to this you were called—it is inseparable from your vocation. For Christ also suffered for you, leaving you His personal example, so that you should follow on in His footsteps” (2:21 Amplified Version).

Peter points out in chapter 4 verse 12 one of the kinds of suffering we may endure: “to test your quality.” In His love, not for punishment, God is working on us and in us to conform us into the image of His Son Jesus. He is moving us toward holiness and the perfection that we will finally attain only in His presence as holy, transformed immortals in eternity. We are in process. Painful as it is, deserve it or not, suffering in this passing world is part of that process. As in the case of Job in the Old Testament book, nothing Job did precipitated the suffering he endured. Some things were going on in eternal places “behind the curtain” so to speak. When we suffer in this way, we may be misunderstood by others and we ourselves don't know what God is up to in our lives. Sometimes He lets us know, sometimes He doesn't.

Peter points to a second kind of suffering and warns us “by no means go there.” He lists some of that sinfulness in 4:15. We shouldn't belly ache if we suffer as evildoers, “when you sin” 3:10, 11, 17. Peter quotes from Psalm 34. In such cases we do get what we deserve; we don't have to pluck daisy petals to find out. When we suffer the consequences of our own wrongdoing, we shouldn't ask for God's justice—we can only plead for God's forgiveness, love and mercy when we repent.

A third kind of suffering that Christians from the earliest days of the Church through all the ages until the present have experienced—persecution for their faith, “on account of Me” Jesus says in Matthew 5:11. “Blessed are you when men revile you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil things against you falsely on My account.” That kind of suffering is all too pervasive throughout the world today 24/7 as Christians in many countries are literally being tortured and martyred by the hundreds of thousands for the sake of Christ. They are bearing His cross because they have taken up His cross and followed Him. (1 Peter 4:13, 14, 16, 19) Their kind of suffering merits a glorious eternal reward.

The fourth kind of suffering is for doing good, “for doing right” 2:15, “for your good deeds.” “They slander you as evildoers.” “For the sake of righteousness” (You are not suffering because of your Christian faith, as in the previous kind of suffering, nevertheless you endure it and respond like a Christian although it may be unjust and undeserved and not directly related to your Christian faith.) Matthew 5:10 “persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” For that reason, Peter writes, “Keep your behavior excellent” among outsiders so there will be no occasion to accuse you. (2:12). “It is God's will that by doing right your good and honest lives should silence the ignorance of foolish men” (2:15). You don't get any Boy Scout badges for enduring it patiently when being harshly treated if you have really sinned. (2:20) “But if you bear suffering patiently when you do right and it is undeserved, it is acceptable and well-pleasing to God.” 

 How shall we respond under suffering? We are not left in doubt: “Be zealous for what is good, anticipate rewards from God, rejoice while suffering, regard yourself as blessed, love your enemies, pray and pray for them, don't be ashamed, give glory to God, endure it patiently, keep your behavior excellent, be ready to give a logical defense, act courteously and respectfully, do not be afraid of their threats nor be disturbed by their opposition, acknowledge Christ as Lord, and keep your conscience clear.” (3:13-17)

So which category of suffering are you being blessed with today? Which am I? God is not obliged to tell us; He has His perfect plan for each of our lives. I suggest that we trust His plan. But He doesn't keep it a secret how He expects us to respond to suffering so we can “find favor with Him.” We don't have to waste our time pulling petals off of innocent daisy flowers to find out if we deserve it.

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