In this world you will have trouble, Jesus said to His disciples (John 16:33). It’s a promise as certain as God’s love, even if it has a very different effect. Ananias, dialoguing with the Lord, learned that the newly converted Saul was about to undergo his own initiation. I will show him how much he must suffer, says the Lord (Acts 9:16), referring to a man who would go on to experience jail, chronic illness, poverty, shipwreck.
And trouble is not just for the famous; it enters every believer’s life at one time or another. Peter has been saying this already in his first epistle, and he returns to the theme again as the letter winds down. But now he has the audacity to say,
Dear friends–do not be surprised at the painful trial you are going through… (1 Peter 4:12)
Don’t be surprised, as in: this is as typical as October snow in Montana, as routine as sales tax. Peter–like Jesus–does not trivialize suffering, and he certainly does not seek it. But when trouble comes, he faces it with courage rather than alarm or anxiety.
How to keep from being rocked ? Peter offers two thoughts. First, those who suffer are in good company, since Jesus also faced great difficulties. In ways we do not fully understand, we are able to participate in the sufferings of Christ and this, in Peter’s estimation, is cause for rejoicing.
Second, troubles indicate Spirit’s presence (4:14), which is no small thing. Spirit accompanies all who follow Jesus, but Peter’s specific mention suggests that it’s possible to forget this. He may also be remembering Jesus’ counsel, when the Lord talked about the inevitability of trouble, and the certainty of Spirit’s proximity.
In the year/month/week/day/hour ahead, what’s on its way to meet us? When we think it through, we can form realistic expectations; when we ground ourselves in the reality of God’s care and strength, we will find ourselves able to cope. And whether it sidles up slyly or slams into us head-on, we need not be surprised.