The devil has a way of making men appear guilty when they are not. Suffering in this life sometimes happens to innocent people. Christian believers like the apostle Paul suffered greatly for the gospel. And it seems that in some measure all Christians are to suffer. However, this is not a badge of identity , nor is it the thing for which the Christian aims.
The goal and real hope should be according to the apostle is “that we may lead peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim 2:2). To hold out such hope is not in vain. It is not the apostle holding a carrot before us saying this is the aim but it can nor will never happen. No, this is a really hope.
When I read in 1 Peter 5 of suffering, I also read of a proper time of exaltation and rebuilding in the believer’s life.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:6–10 ESV)
We don’t hope for the suffering, but for the exaltation. Some early Baptists unfortunately held to the idea that suffering or persecution was a necessary mark of a Christian so much so that they ran headlong into persecution as a badge of honor. This was the error of the anabaptists. Although I am not of the persuasion that they are the line from which Baptists come today, the temptation may plague all denominations including reformed baptists to take suffering as a badge that entitles them to boast in itself.
Suffering does accompany the Christian life, but for many it is not severe and does not entitle. I was reading last night about the similar subject where Kenneth L. Gentry Jr. speaking on postmillennialism wrote the following:
“the postmillennialist agrees that we are to “suffer with Christ” until he returns, for we grieve over the sufferings of our forefathers, endure the pains and limitations consequent upon our fallen experience, bemoan our own indwelling sin as well as the sin of the unconverted, and earnestly long for the eternal glory we will share in the presence of God…. Earthly suffering involves times of prosperity as well as times of adversity. Even at the height of the kingdom’s earthly development we will always need to struggle in order to “seek first His kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), always resisting the temptation to arrogantly declare: “my power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17).”Thine is the Kingdom, p.95
Dr. Gentry understands that there is a mischaracterization being made about those who believe in the ultimate triumph of the gospel in this world. That mischaracterization is that such persons believe in an absence of suffering. To rebut such a notion, he affirms suffering accompanies the Christian life, but it does not mean that we don’t hope for and work toward otherwise.
So, all of this is to say that we need both a theology of suffering and a theology of glory in one. The gospel does not teach merely to suffer, but to also triumph. The Bible as the same author above puts it, teaches us to affirm a theology of the cross but “we also heartily rejoice in “the theology of the resurrection.” Let’s not leave that off of our theology of suffering. We live through sufferings to see something far better than suffering. Let us hope in God who raises the dead.