My awakening this past summer has given me an entirely new understanding of the word suffering. Previously, I’d describe my view of suffering as something I’d thankfully had little knowledge of and wouldn’t voluntarily want to explore! After my one experience of depression and anxiety during college I’d closed the book on those feelings for good, I thought.
Now, I look at suffering completely differently. I don’t wish for it, certainly, but I understand that it is often a blessing and means by which God refines the hearts of his beloved. When I read or listen to Bible verses that mention suffering, I’m now able to relate and connect to the message much more fully.
Therefore, as I was busy “shushing” Mateo repeatedly during last week’s sermon, my ears perked up when Pastor Brian mentioned Viktor Frankl, and the related themes of hope and suffering.
This sermon was based 1 Peter, chapter 1:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for your, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though not 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. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9
Frankl was a Holocaust survivor and later a psychiatrist who wrote extensively on his experience in the concentration camp. Specifically, he was inspired by the individuals in the camp who were able to remain friendly and helpful to their fellow man. He described these folks as having “retained their inner liberty” by exercising the “last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances…” What these buoyant people did was maintain hope in the most dire and oppressive of situations. The folks who remained hopeful fared much better in the camps and were to rebuild their lives more successfully after liberation.
Having hope for the future is crucially important for people. What we hope for directly correlates to what we live for and how we live our lives. Pastor Brian made a comment that brought the issues of hope and suffering into clear focus for me. He said that suffering is the lost of one’s ultimate hope.
Sometimes I feel a bit silly calling the anxiety I experienced last summer suffering. But, it did feel like I had lost my hope when I could no longer convince myself that I would remain happy all the time. My ultimate hope had been in myself and my ability to control the future, whereby I’d never have to deal with negative feelings. To look at real suffering, imagine when someone is diagnosed with a terminal condition – they’ve lost their hope for a future. Or, when someone loses a child or spouse – they’re facing the lost of hope for a future with their loved one. The lost of hope certainly results in suffering.
As Christians, one of the most joyful blessings is that we have a hope that can never be taken away. Christ is the living hope referenced in 1 Peter. This hope is perfectly intact regardless of the pain and disappointments that may befall us on earth. At coffee today, my friend and I discussed this topic and she wisely commented that we tend to suffer when we put our ultimate hope in something that we never should have, instead of maintaining our ultimate hope in Christ.
The second part of this verse speaks to the human experiences we have that refine and enrich our faith. I love the phrase “tested genuineness of your faith”. Peter was speaking to the early Christians who were literally being persecuted for their faith. In today’s world, our trials may be different, but the lesson retains meaning. The testing of our faith through times of trial or suffering refines and refocuses our hope on Christ and his resurrection.
I’m now so grateful to have experienced trials that refined my faith and caused my ultimate hope to be placed in Christ, and Him alone.