Summary: This message looks at the place of suffering in the life of the Christian.
Do you ever wonder what a new preacher or public speaker is going to be like?
Perhaps you have some method for finding out whether they’re going to be interesting or not, very quickly.
The founder of CWR, and the author of Every Day with Jesus, Selwyn Hughes recently told the story of how he used to do this as a lad of 12 or 13.
If the speaker began his talk by telling a story then most of the time the speaker was likely to be interesting.
If, however, the preacher began by saying, ’Let’s turn to 1 Peter chapter 1 this morning’, he was most likely to be uninteresting.
In this case he would get out his pen and paper and begin playing noughts and crosses.
Now you should have noticed that I’ve begun by telling a story.
Surely that’s good news then.
Okay, so let’s turn to 1 Peter chapter 1 in our Bibles this morning.
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READ PASSAGE (1 Peter 1:3-12)
There is one question that pastors and ministers get asked more often than any other.
Can you guess what it is?
’If God loves us so much, why does He allow suffering?’
Sometimes it’s a personal question, ’Why am I having to suffer so much?’, or ’Why is the person I love so much having to suffer like this?’
Sometimes, after a disaster, it’s more general, ’Where was God on September 11th last year when those planes flew into the World Trade Centre?’
I asked this kind of question when my Great Aunt died unexpectedly two years ago, ’Why did God allow that to happen?’ I asked.
These are not casual questions that people ask to pass the time or make polite conversation.
Often those who are asking them, ask out of deep personal pain.
They are trying to align their faith that God does, indeed, love us, with whatever awful thing has happened.
If God is good, and God is all-powerful, why does God let this happen?
There are, of course, a variety of answers to this question.
Some are over-simple and ignore one end or the other of that equation of God being both all-powerful and all-loving.
Or they side-step the question altogether by saying something like,
’I don’t know what God had in mind when He allowed your friend to have a serious illness, but it will all be made clear one day.’
God’s power is made clear in these statements, but where is the Love that took on our flesh and died on a cross so that we might know how much we are loved?
Other statements assume that everything that happens, both good and evil, is God’s will.
For example, ’God had something in mind for that young woman when He allowed her to be crippled in a car accident.’
Statements like this don’t take seriously the reality of sin, which means that we can do things God doesn’t want us to do.
If we can defy God, misbehave and do our own thing, how can we hold God responsible for the evil that we do?
It would be wonderful, of course, if children were never kidnapped, accidents never maimed or killed anyone, rape never occurred, weather never devastated or volcanoes never erupted.
But if we are to ask God to interfere every time someone has an idea to do evil, what kind of a world would we have?
The rapist might be stopped, killed at the command of God, but what would God do to us when we scream for the blood of the killer?
When vengeance is uppermost in our minds?
Probably none of us would be here right now!
God is both loving and powerful.
Sometimes it’s difficult for us to reconcile the two, but God is both.
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For what can we turn to God, then?
Peter offers us three things that God gives.
The first of these that he talks about in our letter today is that God has given us hope.
It’s not some abstract idea, but instead the hope that the trials and suffering and grief we face will be used to refine us as gold is refined.
It’s not that God particularly wants us to suffer, but that our sufferings may be used to make us finer than we were.
It will make us more refined, more gracious, and more understanding of others.
Hope looks into the future and gives us reason to live.
Will we place our hope in God then, the one who is our rock and our fortress?
He has our best interests in mind, and yet we still might wonder why we suffer.
I was recently listening to a cassette tape of Paul Scanlon, the pastor of Abundant Life Centre, Bradford, talking about Romans chapter 8, in which he used this phrase, ’Everything is either God sent or God used.’