Don’t be surprised: on facing struggle, adversity, and suffering

Today we launch a new series on how to endure adversity, struggle, and loss well. Suffering and hardship are encountered by all humanity. In fact pain is the one commodity that puts all humanity on equal footing because young, old, rich, poor, educated, uneducated will have lives interrupted by pain. Someone has said, ”Sorrow has a large family,” and it is very true.

A few years ago I received a letter from a woman who very simply and clearly summed up the sources of pain in our lives in terms we call can understand. This is exactly what she said—“I always say that there are three things that can happen to you life”:

  • Things you bring upon yourself.
  • Things that others do to you.
  • And the meteorites that hit you from afar.

Simple—not theological language—but categories we all recognize.


We live on planet earth

Universally and unavoidably we all live on a planet marred by sin and death. We live under the curse. The effects of sin and death will touch us all. As people of faith we are not exempt from this common human experience.

Nothing in the world works the way it is supposed to. Consequences of our garden rebellion linger. Because of the fall the world is full of injustice: good relationships are capable of being destructive, nature can ferociously hammer us and the reality of death hangs over us daily.

Our world is so broken that the Bible describes all of creation as longing for the day when God will restore things (Rom. 8:19-23).

We follow Jesus Christ

It’s pretty inescapable yet ironic that Jesus is prophetically described in Isaiah as a “man of suffering” or “sorrows.” This ought to tell us something.

Despite what those in the prosperity gospel may suggest, following Christ will put us more in the lane of suffering than out of it. The narrative of arguably the most significant conversion in the New Testament is shockingly straight-forward about this fact with this statement that may become easily lost in the drama of Paul’s conversion: “For I will show him the things He must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). This is God speaking to Ananias. Trouble would come often into this dramatically chosen vessel. And we will suffer for His Name’s Sake as well.

A few mentions of this suffering:

Paul’s post-conversion life bears all these scriptures out. Plus he goes on to both affirm and testify that the words spoken to Ananias about his suffering were indeed true in 2 Tim. 3: 12: “Yes, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”


Both John and Peter, while referencing to difficulty, use a word that contains a subtle, yet telling suggestion.

1 Peter 4: 12 says Beloved, Do not be surprised as the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you as though something strange were happening to you.”

1 John 3:13: “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”

I’ve pondered this one a while. I polled people about it. It seems to be a human condition as we see these New Testament mentions. Plus evidenced with books such as R.C.Sproul’s Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life .

The one thing I had to honestly admit out loud as I processed is this: “I am MOST surprised when I suffer.” Not necessarily when others suffer. Which forces me to address the reality that I apparently, unconsciously, feel I should be exempt and I am caught off guard when it hits.

If we feel we don’t deserve it—it will surprise us.

Another reason we might be surprised is we discover that God actually has an economy in our suffering that brings Him glory and us good. We might be surprised to learn that in our darkest moments HE MIGHT be actually MOST glorified and we might find an “inexpressible joy.” It’s counterintuitive to our human condition. Remember that Biblical phrase “His ways are not our ways”? It applies right here.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

We will share in the sufferings of Christ on this planet. None of us will escape it. Yet as 1 Peter reminds us there is a great paradox in our deepest hurts; joy can be found there.

Stay tuned. We will spend the next few weeks discussing struggle, adversity and suffering.

We don’t want you to be caught off guard.

What surprises you most about suffering?

Published April 4, 2016