“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations” (1 Peter 1:6).
Many believers find themselves in times of deep sorrow, but this does not mean that they have done something wrong. Faith may be lost in the “wilderness state”, but it is not necessarily the case when someone is burdened with sadness. It is important that we understand the difference, for it is easily for a suffering soul to slip into the wilderness of unbelief. Unless otherwise indicated all Scriptures are from 1 Peter.
Who Experience Spiritual Suffering?
Peter wrote to believers who were undergoing a time of suffering. They certainly maintained faith in God and were destined to reign with Christ despite the severity of the trials (:7.) Their faith remained strong because it was focused on God’s preserving power (:8-9.)
Suffering had not diminished their peace with God (:2.) Peter prays that they would experience even more abundant growth in this area. Such peace can only be enjoyed by those who have authentic faith.
They had a true and living hope in Christ (:3.) They knew that they were saved through the power of the resurrected Lord and had an inheritance with Him (:4.) This confidence came because they believed in the sufficiency of Christ’s blood (:2, 19, 21.)
The sufferings did not dampen their joy, in fact they “greatly rejoiced” (:6), because they loved the Lord more than life itself. Such joy transcends mere words (:8.)
They did not blame God for what was happening; instead they continued to prove that they loved Him through obedience (:8, 14.)
Despite the heavy hardships they continued to live holy lives (:15-16.) They continued in holiness because they were thankful for the price Christ paid for them on the cross (:18.) Their aim was to live pure lives regardless of what the world or the devil threw at them (:22.) They had inward and outward holiness.
The Nature of Spiritual Suffering
The word “heaviness” literally means “to be made sorry” and “grieved.” Peter’s readers were experiencing immense suffering for the cause of Christ. The word also reveals both the degree and the duration of these trials. This burden was not going to be shrugged off very easily. It was not a fleeting emotion; rather it was heart-breaking sorrow and anguish.
These difficulties cannot be compared with the sort endured by those in the wilderness state. Those in the wilderness got there through sin and unbelief, therefore they cannot rejoice and have peace and confidence in God. Those undergoing heavy trials remain faithful, they rejoice, and are kept by the power of God (:5.)
Why Do Such Sufferings Come?
Peter speaks of these trials as “manifold” (:6), meaning “various in character and type.” They may include bodily and mental suffering as well as spiritual.
Few believers will get through life without several times of severe trial upsetting their spirit, mind and body. Sometimes these trials rush upon us like a “whirlwind” bringing “distress and anguish” (Proverbs 1:27), and cannot hinder their approach, we can trust that they will pass away.
Sometimes financial problems can cause sorrow. Let us remember that God provides for each of His children today, just as He has wonderfully blest us in the past.
Crippling heartache often causes heavy sorrow. This is certainly true when a loved one dies, especially if they are snatched away at a young age. But are not our hearts heavy burdened for those who are dead while they live? It is painful to watch backsliders determined to go their own way and heading for destruction.
In all these circumstances Satan is ready to pounce, for he is like “a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8.) He fires his flaming darts at those already experiencing suffering so that he might weaken and destroy their faith. The serpent wants to inject the venom of blasphemous and unbelieving thoughts. He wants to revive our natural opposition to God and bring us back into bondage.
It must be pointed out that the mystic, with his “dark night of the soul,” is wrong in teaching that God purposely withdraws His presence from obedient Christians to teach them a lesson. Where does the Scripture teach such an abomination? Yes, God allows trials to test our faith, but He never hides His face from us.
The Results of Spiritual Suffering
Why does God permit sufferings and trials to come our way? The answer is indicated in 1 Peter 1:7. In fact elsewhere Peter says that we ought not to be surprised if they do come our way (1 Peter 4:12-13.) Therefore our faith is refined and purified through personal suffering and trial, for we will come out of them, not weaken, but more stronger and valiant for God. Instead of being defeated we will know “exceeding joy.”
Love will increase along with faith. We learn that God can be trusted to help us through future problems, and that He will bless us more than we can ever know.
Trials can cause a growth in holiness of heart and conduct. Afflictions have a habit of subduing our self-confident spirit, taming our sinful nature, and softening our stubbornness towards God. They cast us upon Him and bid us to die to the world and the flesh. Out of all our trials will come great reward and peace for our souls. In fact they are an indescribable gain … “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17.)
Sufferings do not mean that God has left us or that we are in a wilderness state, but it is possible to descend into such a condition if we do not maintain faith. In the deepest sorrow we can walk in faith, hope, love and holiness. There is no reason to give up. We must trust that God knows how to work His purposes and plans out in our lives … “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28.)
We need to stay alert, watch and pray so that we do not fall into spiritual darkness. We need to wait patiently upon God. Let us continue to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1), and daily “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), until He receives us into His eternal Kingdom.