Is Suffering Optional?

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps ~1 Peter 2:21

There are many today that teach that being a true Christian, if you do it right, means that God will take care of all your earthly needs. He will heal all your infirmities, bless you with financial prosperity, and grant you an easy and peaceful existence during your long, fulfilled, and happy time here on earth. All you need to do is to have faith, and of course, give to the church, in order to receive all the peace that God desires for your life.

This is certainly an appealing picture but is there any truth to it? There is a time in the eternal state when all of those things will come to pass but God's word paints a very different picture of His expectation of our time here in this world. Every single book of the New Testament discusses the promise and the expectation that followers of Jesus will endure suffering. Most of the apostles were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for their faith, some multiple times. All of the Apostles, with the lone exception of John, were martyred for their faith in Christ. Each of them, and millions after them, professed their faith boldly to their deaths and they died specifically due to those bold professions of faith.

In the ease and comfort of our western culture it is easy to forget that there are millions of Christians all over the world today that live in fear of persecution and even death. In China, India, Africa, the Middle East, and in many other countries Christians are arrested, tortured, and killed for their faith and yet they press on. In these countries where proclaiming Christ can lead to violent death, there are no casual Christians.

This is not the only form of suffering though. Regardless of where we find ourselves - in the midst of political peace or persecution - we must all deal with suffering in forms both great and small. The loss of a job, the death of a loved one, natural disasters, war, murder, rape, child abuse... suffering surrounds us and permeates this existence. 

This suffering is not pointless and it is not simply a filter to test whose faith is true (though it does that as well), rather it is to strengthen us, to develop our character, to lead us in our spiritual growth, to allow us the opportunity to show true love to others, and to bring us ever closer to a personal relationship of trust and faith in God through Jesus Christ. All of scripture, and our own experience as well, teaches us that this world is not a final place rest but an intermediate place of testing.

There are many who will tell you that this isn't God's plan and that God really wants you to have heaven here on this earth but just as Scripture teaches us to expect many trials and suffering, it also expressly warns us about such teachers: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Timothy 4:3)

Are you seeking only those that tickle your ears and tell you what you desire to hear? Remember to test all things with God’s word through scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. ~1 Peter 5:10

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