The Problem of Suffering

The Problem of Suffering
Part 1

Dr. James Naismith

Conduct in Suffering - 1 Peter 2:18-25

In these verses, primarily addressed to domestic servants responsible to different kinds of masters, we can discern instruction on the conduct of Christian servants in any sphere, and indeed of everyone of us in our contacts with the world around. Among our masters and others whom we meet daily, are “the good and gentle,” who are understanding, considerate and reasonable, and may even respect us for the stand we take; others, however, are “froward” — crooked, awkward to deal with, difficult to please and constantly finding fault, opposed to the Gospel and to those who declare and defend it. By exhortation and example, the Apostle emphasizes two main principles by which our lives should be governed, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves:

Exhortation verses 18-20. (1) The Christian’s conduct should be such as will never merit suffering or punishment at the hands of his fellows. So important is it that we should, in a hostile world, maintain a conduct beyond reproach that the Apostle reiterates this teaching in dealing with the problem of suffering in chapters 3 and 4. The Christian should never have to suffer for wrongdoing or be buffeted for his faults, but should be subject to his master with all fear.

(2) The Christian’s conduct in the face of unmerited suffering should be characterized by patience and sub-mission. There is no particular credit in patiently enduring suffering which is the result of our own wrongdoing. But if we suffer for doing well and endure without retaliating, threatening, complaining or harbouring grudges, this is “acceptable with God,” well-pleasing to Him.

Example verses 21-25. The supreme example of the Saviour perfectly illustrates and enforces the teaching of His servant. Just as the pupil copies or traces over the copperplate writing of his teacher, so we have been left an ‘example’ —literally an under-writing — to copy in our lives, a perfect pattern to follow. This example demonstrates the two principles already stated. (1) Christ’s conduct was irreproachable (v. 22). Blameless in action —”Who did no sin” — and word —”neither was guile found in His mouth.” He was hated without a cause (Ps. 69:4). No persecution was ever so intense, no suffering so great as He unjustly endured.

(2) Yet through this suffering, He was a perfect example of patient endurance, of non-retaliatory submission (v. 23). This holy Sufferer returned compassion and love for bitterness and hate. Treated unrighteously by men, He committed Himself in the hour of His affliction “to Him that judgeth righteously,” who will always vindicate those who seek to uphold His honour. The empty tomb on earth and the filled throne in Heaven are evidences of God’s righteous judgment and an encouragement to those who, like their Saviour, ‘commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator’ (Ch. 4:19).

Confidence in Suffering - (Chapter 3:10-17)

Persecution tends to induce panic. Fear and foreboding are the natural reactions to suffering imposed or threatened by hostile opposition. The believer, however, should have such triumphant confidence that, far from being ‘afraid of their terror’ and ‘troubled’ by their threats, he can count such suffering a blessing and privilege, and be ‘happy’ in the face of it (v. 14). In the words of another, ‘In nothing terrified by your adversaries … for unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ … to suffer for His sake’ (Phil. 1:28, 29). What is the basis of this confidence?

A Good Conscience (verses 10-13). Well might the believer be alarmed and ashamed if he suffers for evildoing. But if he “do good,” is a “follower of that which is good,” has a “good conscience” and a “good conversation” (behaviour), and so suffers “for well doing,” he can face persecution without alarm and put his false accusers to shame.

God’s Supervision and Care (v. 12). As, of course, the Lord declared to Moses on Mount Horeb, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people … and have heard their cry” (Ex. 3:7), so His eyes and ears are still open to the needs of His own and His protection and deliverance are assured. Whatever insult or injury men may heap upon us, we can trust God, who is over all, to “turn what seems to harm us into everlasting joy.” “Who is he that will harm you?” “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).

Acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ (v. 15). “Have no fear of them … But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord” (RSV). The sure antidote to fear is to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ. The heart of every believer should be a sanctuary where He reigns supreme. If He is undisputed Sovereign of our lives, controlling every thought and action, directing every motive and move, then all fear will be banished. “The Lord is the strength of my life: of whom shall I be afraid? … Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear” (Ps. 27:1, 3), “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear” (Ps. 118:6). “The Lord is my helper and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Heb. 13:6). Is He Lord of your life?

Readiness to Defend Our Faith (v. 15). Since persecution arises because of our faith and the hope which it bring us, confidence in the face of such persecution will depend in measure on our knowledge of the faith and our ability to defend it. Are we sufficiently acquainted with the great truths of the Christian faith that we are ready at any time to explain to an enquirer the ground of our hope and basis of our confidence? Alas, too many of us have such a meagre knowledge of the Scriptures that, when asked “a reason of the hope that is in us,” our mouths are closed!

Conviction of the Will of God (v. 17). “If the will of God be so.” The will of God in my life: “nothing more, nothing less, nothing else” —this should be the motto of every believer. On occasions, that will may involve suffering for well-doing, but with what confidence we can face every circumstance and vicissitude of life if we know that we are in the current of His will. “All is right that seems most wrong, if it be His sweet will.”

“Upon God’s will I lay me down
As child upon its mother’s breast;
No silken couch, nor softest bed
Could ever give me such deep rest.