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Stephen Scheidell

Dr. Gene Green


BITH 213
CPO W143
1ST PETER | THEOLOGY OF SUFFERING
First Peter's theology of suffering, at face value, appears in verses 4:12-5:10.
Taken from this narrow passage, One might become bewildered at the idea that we should
rejoice in suffering when it appears "according to God's perfect will". However, this is
not the entirety of what Peter intends to portray. Thus, the whole the letter must be taken
into account for understanding Peter's message and his understanding on the question of
suffering. Investigating audience and intent of the letter gives us our point of departure.
Peter explicitly addresses the letter to the Christians in Pontus, Galatia,
Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithnya. From the Gentiles they have been receiving ridicule and
persecution. In the context of inflicted injustice, Peter writes a consolation. What they
experience comes from the Gentiles, not from whom they serve. This in mind, we can
properly follow the logic of Peter's text.
Some have abused the passage " so that the tested genuineness of your faith
may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ"
(1:7). Their argument runs something along the following lines: God is honored in our
suffering, and it proves the genuineness of our faith, so we should desire suffering as it is
God's will. Three simple objections easily dispel this spiritualized masochism.
First, trying to boil worship and honoring God down to neat, little formulas never
works out well. This is not human serving God, but trying to control God in simplistic
rules. This is why Christian self-help texts are about as useful as Braille on a road sign.

Second, Christ serves as our norm as he set the example for how we suffer (Peter too uses
Christ to establish that we suffer graciously and quietly as he did); Christ accepted the
cup of God's wrath, but hardly sought it. He was obedient to God's redemptive plan for
humankind. Christ in Gethsemane prayed and asked the Father if there were any other
way, but ultimately submitted to His will. Here is the key distinction: Christ understands
that God wills the goal of redeeming mankind, and that for that goal Christ must suffer
death. In short, suffering falls in God's will only when as a necessary means to an end.
Third, verse six contains the necessary phrase, "if necessary," confirming that suffering
comes not from God and only situationally. God reveals and works in an infinite variety
of ways; to restrict God to certain methodologies is to create a god as we see fit.
Peter then develops his argument around the thesis that God utilizes the suffering
inflicted upon us as a means to work in our character and discipline. In chapters two and
three, he then takes Christ as an example of how we should take insults and persecutions
without being intimidated or losing fervor. As Christ suffered and died, so also our
present suffering leads to the purging of our sins and our death to the fleshly life.
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for
your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that
you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His
glory you may rejoice with exultation" (4:12f). For Peter, suffering irrevocably ties into
the discipline and maturity of the saints.