Suffering is a Community Project

It is in the long, deep valley of suffering we feel most alone, isolated and torn away from the mirage of normalcy where we wish to dwell in uninterrupted comfort. When the mirage vanishes, we are left to reckon with just how fragile and contingent our existence is. The veil of ignorance is lifted in our suffering, and the reality of our circumstance comes center stage—we have no hope or ability to endure this life alone. But praise God we neither live nor suffer alone, even when we feel as though we do.

In his letter to Christians in Asia Minor, whom Peter address as “those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion,” Peter writes:

“In [the benefits of your salvation that are coming in the future] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

These few verses are rich with truth meant to keep us from the despair of isolation when suffering does come.

There is nothing normal or right about the circumstances in which exiles find themselves.

One way Peter does this is by dismantling the idol of normalcy. Peter addresses his audience as exiles, those who are not home. There is nothing normal or right about the circumstances in which exiles find themselves. As long as they are exiles, there is no normal, no rest to be found in belonging, no comfort to be taken in foreign circumstances. Peter is urging all believers to take comfort and rest in our “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” This is the normalcy that awaits all those exiles who refuse to craft comfort and seek security in the present and instead patiently endure knowing their eternal rest and reward is coming “at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Another way these verses keep us from despairing alone in the midst of suffering is by reminding us that we are exiles together. As exiles together, we suffer together. This point gets lost in translation since the English language lacks a distinction between the singular “you” and the plural “you.” To make the distinction, where Peter employs the plural “you,” we can read “you all.”

“In [the benefits of your salvation that are coming in the future] you all rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you all have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of you all’s faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

The “various trials” experienced by this diverse and dispersed group of Christians all serve a single and shared purpose—to build up their common faith in the God who has granted them an eternal inheritance in Jesus.

Certainly it makes sense that Peter would use the plural “you” given he is writing to a group of people. But what is fascinating is that he is writing to believers who are spread throughout Asia Minor. Even if we assume there is wide spread persecution to which all these believers would be subject, we cannot assume that every single believer was subject to the exact same type and degree of suffering. Surely there were those who escaped suffering or endured a lesser degree of persecution than others. Even Peter says the trials experienced by these believers are “various.” Therefore, Peter is saying that there is a solidarity among these elect exiles scattered throughout Asia Minor, a shared reality despite varying experiences. That shared reality is their singular faith in Jesus—“the tested genuineness of your (plural) faith (singular).” The “various trials” experienced by this diverse and dispersed group of Christians all serve a single and shared purpose—to build up their common faith in the God who has granted them an eternal inheritance in Jesus.

So we never suffer alone. Our individual experience of trials and suffering is woven into the shared reality of the people of God. Nor do we suffer merely for our sake alone. Our individual suffering serves to refine the one common faith of God’s people in our one Lord Jesus Christ.

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