Christian Living

Spiritual Life

In the Forge of Suffering

Suffering is a required course in the university of life. Jesus said as much: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33 NIV).

In the midst of adversity, perspective is everything. And for the Christian, our salvation and security in Christ provide an eternal hope that will not let us down.

The Apostle Peter elucidated this perspective well in his first epistle. Writing to early Christians who were about to experience increased hardship under the reign of Nero—an avid persecutor of followers of Jesus—Peter wanted his fellow believers to be prepared for what was about to come. He did not want the persecution they would face to surprise them (see 1 Peter 4:12), nor did he want it to diminish their hope and joy: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . . In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials” (1 Peter 1:3, 6 NASB).

This hope that Peter held out—to first-century Christians and to us today—is a central theme of my new book Shaped by Suffering (InterVarsity Press, 2020). This book goes beyond theodicy (defending God in light of the existence of adversity and evil), focusing instead on the redemptive, character-shaping nature of suffering. There will be hard times in our lives—times even when all temporal hope is gone. Peter does not deny the reality of pain and trials. But he contends that those adversities are the very stuff of our redemption; they’re the moments when our faith and most admirable character qualities—perseverance, patience, courage, strength, and the like—can be forged.

In the midst of trials, Peter says, “the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7 NASB).

Reflecting on this metaphor, I write in Shaped by Suffering: “You see, faith is more precious than the finest metal on earth. What’s more, the divine Alchemist never wastes any of the original substance; [He] heats the ores until all the impurities are removed. The hotter the temperature, the more dross rises to the surface. Our Father skims these impurities off the top so that ultimately the only thing that remains is [His] own image in us. It’s a process that begins on earth and is not complete until we get to heaven.”[1]

Through your own suffering, God wants to forge in you a new quality that otherwise would not be there. He will not waste your pain; rather, if you let him, he can use your hardships to conform you more to the image of his Son, who himself suffered (and always unjustly) on this earth.  

When we look at our circumstances from this eternal, Christ-centered perspective, we see that suffering has a way of purifying us during our temporal sojourn, reminding us that we are pilgrims passing through “to a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16 NASB), where “there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Revelation 21:4 NASB).

[1] Kenneth Boa with Jenny Abel, Shaped by Suffering: How Temporary Hardships Prepare Us for Our Eternal Home (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 33.

Copyright © 2020 Ken Boa, used with permission. 

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