Thursday, February 4, 2016

Refining Fire

Note: Since the start of the year, we’ve been studying 1 Peter with the theme “Making Progress,” asking the question, “How can we become better people in a culture that does not encourage our faith?”  This Sunday, we'll be looking at 1 Peter 4:12-19.  

            When my daughter Kayleigh was born, I made almost all of her doctor’s appointments.  These were not fun events.  Once, the doctor had to give her a round of shots.  He told me to hold her still.  Now, Kayleigh didn’t really like me much in those days.  Unlike Carrie, I wasn’t soft and gentle, I clearly didn’t know what I was doing--which she could innately sense--and worst of all, I didn’t produce milk.  But useless as I was, she somehow knew it was my job to protect her.  So when I held her down with all my might while Dr. Voldemort attacked her over and over with a razor sharp needle, she screamed and cried and stared right into my eyes with a look that said, “Why are you doing this to me?”  

             When life gets hard, there are two ways religious people tend to react.  We get angry with God, or we think God is angry with us.   We get angry with God because we feel like He has broken some sort of agreement.  We say things like, “Haven’t I done things the right way?  I go to church, I’m kind to others, I try to follow your commands.  Is this how you repay me?”  Actually, people in Scripture such as Job and David reacted this way sometimes, so you’re not a horrible person if you feel this way, too.  But Scripture also tells us, again and again, that pain and suffering are part of life on this earth.  God’s best people suffered in terrible ways.  That’s why Peter tells his readers not to be surprised at the troubles they are facing.  We are not promised a pain-free existence, not yet.  Those who think, “God must be angry with me,” are also incorrect.  In Scripture, God did sometimes use circumstances to punish people.  But every time He did, they knew why they were experiencing the pain.  They could draw a clear line from their sin to the consequences.  This is why in verse 15, Peter tells them to make sure that if they suffer, it’s not because of any crime they’ve committed.  If we get drunk and get behind the wheel of a car, we shouldn’t be surprised that we crash; if we don’t deal with our foul temper, we shouldn’t blame God because our loved ones don’t want to be around us anymore.  But if our pain seems random, it’s not the Judgment of God.  If it were, He’d let us know it. 

            The truth is, most of the time, we won’t know exactly why God allows a particular painful event into our lives.  Tim Keller pastors in Manhattan, and most of the people he meets have no Christian background.  Sometimes, they will say, “I don’t believe in God because something awful happened to me, and if God was real and loved me, He would never let that happen.”  Keller’s response is, “Is it possible that an all-knowing God has a reason for allowing this pain that you cannot comprehend?”  They have to admit that it is possible.  I think about that day in the doctor’s office.  Could I have prevented Kayleigh’s pain?  Absolutely, but I knew the pain was for her good.  Could she understand that, no matter how I tried to explain it?  Absolutely not.  Sometimes, we just have to trust Him without knowing what He’s up to.   

            Peter wrote this letter at a time in history when great persecution against Christians had not yet broken out, but it was coming.  The warning signs were there, and Peter wanted to prepare them.  His words apply even to people like us, who may never experience any physical persecution.  We will endure suffering; some of us are right now.  Actually, the story of Job is instructive; it reminds us that when we are suffering physically, there is also a battle for our souls going on.  So what are we to do?  Rejoice!  This doesn’t mean it’s wrong to feel sad, or to express sadness.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask for help.   When we experience pain, how can we make sure we rejoice in it?  Based on this passage, here are some things to say to God.

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