Summary: While we cannot always understand why things happen to us, we do not need to be surprised by them. In addition, we can be certain that God will be with us in the midst of our painful circumstances.
I remember when I was a child that I would sometimes attend a surprise birthday party. We would attempt to hide from the guest of honor. Soon the guest of honor would show up and we would jump out from behind things and yell, Surprise! The guest of honor would look surprised, whether surprised or not. In this case, surprise was a very good thing. The surprised one gets something valuable and desired.
However, sometimes we are surprised by something we do not want. You may have experienced that phone call from a relative relaying information about a bad accident. Maybe you have heard the doctor came out and tell you that you or a loved one would die. Here is a surprise, but pain comes as a result. In both cases the surprised one does not know or expect the event to happen.
Surprise can take someone totally off guard and cause them to hyperventilate. Surprise can cause us to make very poor decisions. Surprise can weaken our resolve to do what is right. Surprise can be good and it can be bad.
False Gospels set us up for surprise
The writer of I Peter seeks to make sure that we are not caught by surprise. You see the writer knows that the Christian will go through some hard times in this world. And yet there are many Christians who think that a Christian has no need to worry about pain and hurt. There are certain false gospels that teach that as soon as you become a Christian you do not have to worry about problems.
For example, I turned on the television the other night and saw a television preacher with some holy water. Supposedly the source of the water was the river Jordan. The preacher also added to the holiness of the water by praying over it. The water could be used internally or externally. One person put the holy water on his head and his hair stopped falling out. One person rubbed the holy water on their tumor and the next day it just fell off. Amazingly another man put the holy water on his wallet. Imagine his surprise when he found a check in the mail for a large sum of money. This is an illustration of what many think Christianity is. Once you become a Christian, God is about to hook you up. You have lost all of your problems. So just believe and it will all be given to you. Is it any wonder that many of us are set up for a surprise? For whether you believe it or not, you will have trouble and heartache in this world.
Others have a more sophisticated form of this idea that shows up in their view of the end times. They have created a secret rapture doctrine where Jesus secretly removes the people of God right before the “great tribulation.” Christians do not have to worry about going through the great tribulation. Then after this great tribulation is over, seven years later, Jesus will bring the Christians back to the earth to pick up all of those who weren’t Christians but decided to become so during the tribulation. Here is an eschatology built on no pain on the earth, no pain at the end, and no pain at any time. In fact being a Christian seems like the perfect way to escape pain. But we all know it doesn’t work like that!
Some ask why we have to struggle
We know by experience that this is not how our lives work. Some of us want it to work like that so bad that we pay money to the purveyors of this theology. We want to believe that Christians do not suffer problems, but we know that is not the case. In fact more than by our own experience, the Biblical writers tell this as well, reminding us to not be surprised at the fiery ordeal. What is the fiery ordeal? It is not the nice living some of us would like to think it would be. No, it is a rough time. It is pain, it is struggle, and it is whatever we have to go through in this life. It is the loss of a job that we did not foresee. It is the cancer that bankrupts us and kills our hopes. It is the divorce that our spouse wants. What is the fiery ordeal? It is the tribulation that some believe that God would save us from. But this is not true.
Yes there is a fiery ordeal in the world. Yes there is pain in the world, but why? Why do we have trouble when God is all powerful? Why do we have trouble when God is all powerful? God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, why do my creditors want to evict me? God has healing in God’s wings and yet I can’t be healed of my afflictions. Why?