12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. -- 1 Peter 4:12-13 (NIV)
We talked about this passage this morning, and I had a thought or two on the discussion. Now this is not a deep treatise on the problem of pain or the nature of suffering. Just a few thoughts.
I'm wondering about how to "rejoice" as I participate in suffering. My general policy toward suffering is that it's something to be carefully avoided. I spend a lot of my time arranging my life to avoid pain and suffering in one way or another. Most of the advice I gave my children as they were growing up could be seen as a commentary on avoiding suffering in their lives. Even in the midst of the inevitable suffering that comes, the last thing on my mind is rejoicing.
It seems to me that the rejoicing might occur later, after I have survived the trial. Then I can sometimes look back and see how God used the pain to build me up or to prune off some harmful parts.
I wonder if we're harmed by the pain-avoidance we've all learned growing up. We're taught to avoid suffering in our own lives, to alleviate it in the lives of others, and avoid causing even small offenses that might cause pain.
Might the church be healthier if life were a bit more painful?
I don't think I want to know.