Summary: Godly suffering is the key to a joyful Christian life.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing were happening to you. Rather rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for Christ’s sake you are blessed, for the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. Though they speak evil of Him, He is glorified through you. None of you should suffer as a murderer, thief, evildoer, or busybody in other men’s affairs. 16 Yet if any suffer as a Christian, he should not be ashamed--instead, he should praise and give glory to God . For the time has come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if judgment begins with us, what will happen to those that do not obey the gospel of God? If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what shall become of the ungodly and the sinner appear? Therefore those that suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator, and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:12-19, NKJV & NIV)
Suffering was not present in God’s original plan for the world. Genesis 1:31 says, "And God saw everything that He had made, and it was very good."
Suffering came into the world through the sin of Adam and Eve. After the sin of Adam and Eve was exposed, God pronounced judgment: "To the woman he said, ’... in sorrow you shalt bring forth children’... And to Adam he said, Because you listened to ... your wife, and ate of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat of it: the ground is cursed for your sake; in sorrow you will eat [of] it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you ..." (Gen. 3:16-19).
The suffering of Adam and Eve was a fitting sentence for their crime against God. God always punishes wickedness by returning it on the heads of the wicked. Adam listened to his wife rather than submitting to God’s express command -- so now the ground refuses to submit to him. Eve caused her heavenly Father extreme grief--so now her own children grieve her in childbirth. She ate the fruit out of pure selfish desire, so now her children are born selfish and demanding.
The guilty suffer when the trouble they intended to wreak on the innocent falls on their own head. There are many examples of this in the Bible, including Pharoah, Judas, etc. However, the righteous also suffer, and this is the suffering that we will consider now.
Because of sin, obedience to God’s commands now intrinsically involves suffering. Originally, God’s commands to Adam and Eve to "Subdue the earth" and "Be fruitful and multiply" were blessed and joyful responsibilities. After sin, Adam and Eve still wanted to do these things, because God had built the desire into their basic natures. However, what once was a blessed responsibility became tedious and burdensome because nature has been corrupted.
Paul expresses a parallel truth when he speaks of his heart’s desire to obey the law of God and his inability to do so because of the fallenness of his nature. (Romans 7:14-23).
Here is a corollary to this same idea: Suffering is a sign of the resistance of fallen nature to the rule of God. So re-establishing the rule of God in this world necessarily involves suffering.
Righteous suffering carries within itself the seeds of joy (Ps. 126:5-6, John 16:20-22)--because righteous suffering brings the fulfillment of, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven".
The suffering of the righteous is consistent with God’s justice in the context of eternal life. If there truly is eternal life, then even a lifetime of suffering is only a passing moment. Suffering can then be compared to the pains of childbirth --a brief moment of agony which is later forgotten because of the subsequent joy in the child who is brought forth. On the other hand, If there is no eternal life, then God is not just -- because the righteous suffer MORE than the unrighteous.
The suffering of the righteous is the core of the Gospel message. Jesus Christ, the only truly and perfectly righteous person who ever lived, suffered more intensely (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) than anyone else. And this suffering was not just by chance, but rather by His explicit intention. The overriding purpose of His life was to lay the groundwork for His death, through which He opened the way for our reconciliation with God.
Those who believe in Jesus receive the Holy Spirit through Him, so they may have the grace to suffer as He did. We receive the joy of anticipation in the midst of our suffering (Romans 5:2-5, 12:12)-- just like the woman giving birth, or the gardener grubbing in the dirt, or the champion running a race. Our lives will bear fruit which lasts forever--namely, people’s spirits will be unbound, enlightened, enabled to attain the potential which God intended for them and which the Accuser attempted to steal from them.