Under the Cross: Hope in Suffering, Not Apart from It
By Harrison Goodman
"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?" (1 Peter 3:13) For some reason we read that and assume there should be no answer. If we really love God, how could He let us suffer? Peter wrote that line to a church in martyrdom. He'd die a martyr himself, crucified upside down. He made his defense for the hope that was in him upside down. On a cross. I don't think he's trying to make the point we think.
You Didn't Sign Up for This
We imagine Christian witness is about power. Intellect. Charisma. Look how he found Jesus and got his life together! She found religion and became a star athlete. He went to church and his family stopped fighting so much. We imagine a witness apart from lowliness. Humiliation. Suffering. Nobody signs up for that stuff. We want a Christianity that makes our lives easier. It leaves us in the awkward position of trying to bear witness to a religion whose symbol is the Cross. When we imagine a Christianity apart from suffering, we imagine a Christianity apart from the Cross. When you flee from suffering you flee from the Cross. Peter calls suffering for righteousness' sake a blessing (1 Peter 3:17). As someone who hates papercuts, that's discouraging. I don't want to hurt.
The thing is, "I don’t want to hurt" can become a religion in itself pretty quickly. It has one great commandment: "Thou shalt not hurt." To be fair, it sounds more appealing than any of God's Ten Commandments. The thing is, it offers no more hope. A religion that's afraid to deal with suffering is a fragile thing. A religion that can't explain itself apart from a vengeful deity offers promises but never hope. If you don't believe me, look around. All the world bows to the goddess Corona. I'm not saying we shouldn't be concerned. I'm not saying the disease isn't real. I'm asking how much hope can you really find in masks made from old t-shirts? A religion that can't deal with suffering leaves you always running away from pain and toward a promise that if only you do the right stuff, you won't hurt.
Jesus Is with You and for You
Peter doesn't promise a religion apart from suffering, but He doesn’t speak of a God apart from it, either. Christ also suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous. Our God works through suffering, not apart from it. He doesn't stand on the other side of glory and dangle hope. He dives into the flood and bears the sinners who are lost to it. If your hope is in not suffering, there's no hope until you get past it, and even then you're looking over your shoulder for more of it. If your hope is in Jesus, and Jesus wades into the suffering for you, you can even find hope down here.
You will not find God in a place with no suffering. You find Him on the Cross for you (1 Peter 3:18). That doesn't just change how we see suffering. It changes how we see ourselves. Jesus didn't bear the Cross for those who are zealous for what is good. He bore the Cross for the people who get what they deserve, who suffer for doing evil, for the sinners. For us. And that Cross names you good. Forgiven. Righteous. Not by what you did. Not by what you earned. It's only by the God who suffers for you on that Cross, working a good so powerful that it changes who you are.
You're not just innocent, someone who can self-righteously insist you don't deserve what happens to you. You're someone who can stare at the suffering and say that's where my God works. He isn't on the other side as a prize for making it through. He's at the center of it to work mercy and love as He carries us through it. That Cross is a source of hope now, even if it hurts. Hate that it hurts! But don't think hope waits on the other side of that pain. Know God dwells in the midst of it to carry you. You're someone who can look into the suffering and know that if God is there, it can't destroy you. You're baptized. The mark of hope isn't a future promise. It's a "now" reality. Baptism now saves you. Through water. Through the flood. Through all that's wrong and evil and still washed away in the victory over death by Him who conquered it for you.
Victory Is Already Yours
God works through means. God saved Noah through the ark (1 Peter 3:19-20) and He uses the font for you. It gives you something to hold onto in the midst of storms and suffering. You are baptized. Today you are saved. Today you are with God. Today you have victory. Today you are blessed. Have a good conscience in the midst of it (1 Peter 3:21), not because you made the right choices in the face of danger, but because God bore that for you to cleanse you from shame and guilt and fear.
I don't know if Peter had courage or cowardice upside down on that cross, but I know he's baptized. I know that afraid or not, God had already saved him. The world calls it satanic, but the Petrine cross is an ancient Christian symbol of humble faith in the resurrection. It's a reminder that salvation is ours today no matter what they call us. Whenever enemies of the Gospel bring it out to attack us, we can smile at the promise they point to without even realizing it. God bore the Cross first, so that ours would be like His. We are the baptized. We don't stay dead. We are being carried safely through water.
Rev. Harrison Goodman is the associate pastor at Mount Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas.
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