The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Suffering and the Christian's Glory: Protestantism vs. Catholicism

By: Thomas Booher

1 Peter 4:12-19 explains the purpose of trials and suffering in the Christian’s life, affirming their certainty as well as the need for perseverance through the persecution when it comes. Many believers throughout history have been surprised when met with resistance to their faith, but Peter reminds his readers that this is the way of Christ (1 Pet 2:21). Suffering for the faith is to live like Christ, who gave His life for His sheep (John 10:11), and those who do suffer should rejoice because the Spirit of glory rests upon them as it does Christ (1 Pet 4:14). Peter indicates that suffering leads to glory and that judgment begins at the household of God then spreads out to the unbelieving (4:13, 17). The questions that must be addressed in this text are, first, how does suffering relate and lead to glory, and second, in what sense can judgment be said to begin with believers since Christ has atoned for their sins? The basic Protestant position will be presented for the whole text with minor differences noted along the way followed by a more comprehensive analysis. Then a Roman Catholic understanding of suffering and glory will be presented. Problems with the Roman Catholic position will be highlighted, and the paper will conclude with an affirmation of the classic Protestant position on glory and suffering as expounded in the exegesis of 1 Peter 4:12-19.  
Protestant scholars have varying opinions on the meaning of this text, but the basic premise is generally the same. Feldmeier sees the text as an intensification and sharper focus of what the preceding chapters in the epistle have foreshadowed, now focusing on the crisis of faith that occurs when the believer faces trials and persecution.[1] Another argues that the address “dear friends” marks this pericope off as a new section in the epistle that looks back at what preceded.[2] Kistemaker says that Peter is concerned for the Gentile believers’ faith since it had not been tested like the Jewish converts.[3]  Peter is therefore encouraging them to persevere and explaining why these troubles have come their way. Peter in 4:4 uses the word “surprised” to describe the unregenerates’ reaction when the Christian refrains from participating in the drunken debauchery that characterizes those who are still enslaved to the flesh. He uses the same word in verse 12, this time to describe how believers ought not to react to the fiery trials and suffering that presently afflicts them.[4] This wordplay indicates that since the world does not expect their purity regarding fleshly passions, the faithful should expect to be mocked and persecuted by the world.[5]  
Most see Peter employing fire imagery to demonstrate that the believer’s faith is refined through suffering (see 1:6-7).[6] The reason believers are to rejoice when they are being refined is because they are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Thus, the focus should be placed on the positive benefits that are being produced rather than the painful means being utilized. Others see Peter using the word fire to emphasize the reality of Christians being burnt at the stake for their faith.[7] Kistemaker is careful to avoid the notion that the sharing of Christ’s suffering somehow completes or adds to Christ’s suffering as a sacrifice for sins.[8] Rather, he argues that Christ Himself somehow suffers with His people when they suffer for His sake. Others stop short of saying that Christ Himself suffers with His people while they are suffering, opting instead to emphasize a deeper fellowship with Christ that occurs through the believer’s suffering for the name of Christ.[9] Feldmeier argues that this suffering is the consummation of union with the suffering Christ,[10] and Michaels adds contra Rome that Christians do not share in Christ’s sufferings sacramentally through baptism or in mystical union with Him.[11] Regardless, to refuse to suffer for the Christian faith will result in not being glorified with Christ on the last day, and those who suffer now for the faith can rejoice and find joy because Christ has already turned suffering into a world-changing (and transforming) victory.[12] The command to rejoice then is because the sharing in Christ’s sufferings will lead to the sharing of Christ’s glory after resurrection, just as He entered into glory (Rom 8:17). This is why Peter in verse 14 calls those of the dispersion blessed and says the Spirit of glory rests upon them. Whether or not the spirit of glory and the Spirit of God are identical is debated, some saying it refers to the trinity, others the glory of God filling the tabernacle, still others saying it is a repetition.[13]
Kistemaker argues that Peter in verse 15 wants his readers to know that suffering for criminal activity is not a righteous suffering and does not testify for Christ.[14] Even to be a meddler (the meddling may mean being a busybody, or it may mean trying to police public morality[15]) is a reproach against God, something to be ashamed of, but to suffer as a Christian, for the faith, is something to praise God for with a clean conscience.[16] This praising rather than feeling shame emboldens the Christian to stand firm in the face of opposition and to be a bold witness for the gospel of Christ. This use of the word “Christian” is one of the oldest, likely used to emphasize the opportunity to glorify God by bearing His Son’s name.[17] Conversely, it is a mockery of the name of Christ and cowardice to claim to suffer for Him while actually breaking the law.[18]   
Kistemaker handles the difficult verse 17 by saying the judgment believers face is an exoneration in the name of Christ rather than God’s condemnation.[19] He contrasts God’s chosen people in the Old Testament, Israel, with the elect exiles that Peter addresses. The former turned from God to idols and disobeyed Him, but the latter are willing to endure suffering for Christ. Kistemaker says this is why Peter calls them blessed in verse 14. Further, he argues that judgment flows from the family of God, a better translation of the Greek than to say judgment begins with the family of God.[20] Judgment should not be confused with punishment, since Christ suffered punishment for His people so that they would never have to suffer God’s wrath again. Against this position, Michaels claims the judgment of God does not discriminate between those of the household of faith and the godless, except that the former suffers at human hands while the latter suffers at the hand of God.[21] He sees the “household of God” as possibly referring to the wrathful judgment that came to the Jews at the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Following that, judgment flows out to the rest of the world and the unbelieving.
Another argues that the judgment for the household of God and the judgment for the ungodly and sinner is asymmetrical since the latter are actually experiencing God’s judicial punishment and the former are experiencing God’s loving refinement.[22] So then, believers suffer in this life for the sake of Christ, to inherit future glory, while unbelievers avoid suffering for Christ’s name now, to receive future suffering because of their disobedience.[23] Jobes adds that the difference in judgment is a matter of degree, and for the believer the judgment is eschatological.[24] She concurs with the commentators that say the judgment on the household of God is not punishment, but rather to krima in this context means “the action of a judge”[25] and does not connote condemnation. God, the judge who is acting, is sorting out the believer and unbeliever, as the refiner’s fire removes the dross. The pure substance that remains is the elect, who are being built into a spiritual house (see 1 Pet 2:4-5).[26] Feldmeier notes that the suffering of the elect already places them within a community bathed in eschatological glory which will lead to future glory with Christ.[27]  
Verse 18 is a quotation of the Septuagint version of Proverbs 11:31,[28] used by Peter to add support to his teaching. Kistemaker hears echoes of Jesus in Peter’s reasoning here (see Matt 7:14), expressing the difficulty by which Christians obtain their final salvation. Achtemeier counters saying it is God who finds difficulty saving man,[29] though that can hardly be true even anthropomorphically. The word “hard” in verse 18 is also used in Acts to describe the struggle sailors had at keeping their ship on course. The thrust of the passage then is that, while salvation is a gift of God, it is also a process of sanctification where man himself must strive to stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to life (Phlm. 2:12). The difficulty or scarce manner in which the believer is saved does not indicate that it was a challenge for God to save His people, but rather that it is challenging for man to persevere in the faith to the end due to the hostility of those around them.[30]  Peter then asks the rhetorical and self-evident question of what happens to the ungodly sinner who has made no efforts to love and follow after Christ, indicating the recompense the godless will reap.[31]
Kistemaker views verse 19 as the close of Peter’s instruction and exhortation for the elect to endure suffering for the sake of Christ, indicated by the words “so then.”[32] Another sees this verse as a summary of the entire letter of 1 Peter.[33] Peter gives a final comfort and a command to fulfill two obligations. The final comfort is that those who suffer for the name of Christ do so because it is God’s will for them. Thus Peter is viewing the present from God’s future that is already dawning.[34] The first obligation is for the believers to commit themselves to their faithful Creator, who will not forsake them. Christ is their example and pattern, who committed Himself to God even to death (1 Pet 2:21, 23).[35]Armed with that assurance, the final obligation is to remain steadfast in doing good to others in order to demonstrate the faithfulness that the believers have committed to God.[36] Describing God as “faithful” and “Creator” frames God’s love for His people and His power over all things, including the cosmos. Peter is calling the readers to realize that since God can oversee the forces of nature, He certainly can see His people through their trials.[37] The temptation to cease doing good is strong when doing good is the very thing that is provoking discomfort, but the reward is eternally great, and Peter points to the deeper inner joy that is to be experienced within the experience of suffering for Christ’s sake.[38]  
            An analysis of the above commentary is now in order respecting the nature of the suffering and subsequent glory of the faithful Christian. The commentators that argue for a symmetrical judgment between the household of God and the godless are in an unenviable position. They must argue that God is pouring out, in some sense, His wrath on His own people, in order to not only test them but condemn them. Appeals to the Old Testament fall short since Israel was being punished for disobedience, but in the present text Peter is addressing believers to stand firm and press on. He is not commenting on any disobedience they may have. If Christ has paid for the sins of His people, how can the people in His household still be under His wrath? Further, the text itself indicates that the faithful are suffering unjustly and should rejoice because they are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Did Christ suffer unjustly and yet at the same time deserve that which He endured? No, and if it is a true sharing (by analogy) with Christ’s sufferings, neither does the Christian.
            The glory that results from persevering faith should be understood at root as what Christ has done, but also as fruit of the believer’s own persevering faith by the grace of God and power of the Spirit (Jas 1:12). The sufferings that the believer faithfully endures do count toward the believer gaining favor with God in the same way that a faithful child gains favor with his earthly father. The earthly father loves all his children, but is especially pleased with those who are most obedient to him, particularly when it is not convenient to do so. So it is with God our heavenly Father. The greater faithfulness leads to greater rewards in heaven (Matt 5:11-12), though the rewards themselves are given by God’s grace and not something deserved (Luke 17:10). It is Christ who wraps us in robes of righteousness (Isa 61:10), and it is He who gives us the righteousness needed for salvation through His atonement (Isa 53:11), yet nonetheless it is the righteous deeds of the saints that adorns the bride of Christ at the wedding feast (Rev 19:8). This emphasizes the necessity of persevering in suffering before Christ’s bride can be prepared and displayed in glory. The bride’s glory matches her husbands, and remaining steadfastly faithful to Christ the Groom even when temptations and tribulations try to pull the bride away and tempt her to pursue another, proves the union and proves the love. The union is sure because it is sealed in Christ’s blood (Matt 26:28).     
One question remains. Does Christ, or God the Father, actually suffer when His people suffer? This cannot be. Christ suffered once for all, and to use that kind of language regarding the suffering of the saints is misleading at best. It would be better to say that Christ sympathizes with the saints when they suffer. He can do so because He has suffered (Heb 4:15). If this were not so, suffering would continue in heaven, as the saints in glory would suffer along with Christ as they learned of the saints still on earth enduring their trials.  
It is time now to turn to the Roman Catholic understanding of this passage in relation to Christian suffering and subsequent glory. Space does not permit a blow-by-blow exegesis, but the general theology of Christian suffering and the ensuing glory can be summed up by citing former Pope John Paul II’s Salvifica Doloris:
In the Paschal Mystery Christ began the union with man in the community of the Church. The mystery of the Church is expressed in this: that already in the act of Baptism, which brings about a configuration with Christ, and then through his Sacrifice—sacramentally through the Eucharist—the Church is continually being built up spiritually as the Body of Christ. In this Body, Christ wishes to be united with every individual, and in a special way he is united with those who suffer…. The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world's redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. In so far as man becomes a sharer in Christ's sufferings—in any part of the world and at any time in history—to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world.
Does this mean that the Redemption achieved by Christ is not complete? No. It only means that the Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering. In this dimension—the dimension of love—the Redemption which has already been completely accomplished is, in a certain sense, constantly being accomplished. Christ achieved the Redemption completely and to the very limits but at the same time he did not bring it to a close. In this redemptive suffering, through which the Redemption of the world was accomplished, Christ opened himself from the beginning to every human suffering and constantly does so. Yes, it seems to be part of the very essence of Christ's redemptive suffering that this suffering requires to be unceasingly completed.[39]
If this seems confusing, it is because it is contradictory. On one hand the Pope says that Christ’s suffering is complete and accomplished the redemption of the world, and on the other hand he says Christ’s redemptive work is constantly being accomplished through the body of Christ, particularly in the act of suffering with love. Further, he says that Christ is constantly opened to every human suffering, going so far as to say Christ’s redemptive suffering by nature is unceasingly completed. What “unceasingly completed” seems to mean is something that is constantly being completed and open ended, yet at the same time is already completed. This is a bald contradiction, an impossibility, just as Christ’s redemption cannot be both completely accomplished and constantly being accomplished.
Though it is an impossibility, this is what Rome believes. The implications are severe. If Christ is still open to human sufferings, then Christ is suffering perpetually in glory. This then smashes suffering and glory together. While Protestants would affirm that suffering leads to glory, they would not affirm that suffering is the glory that is to come. Where Christ is, and for the saints that are already with Him, there is neither suffering nor sorrow (Rev 21:4). The body of Christ does fill what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ (Col 1:24), but not to atone for sins or partake in the redemptive suffering of Christ. Rather the afflictions are lacking in the sense that they are required to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth, and the gospel message is that there is a once and for all atonement for sin (1 Pet 3:18). Rome takes the analogy of the church being the body of Christ in some mysterious way literally. Since Christ Himself is the literal head, He continually suffers when the body suffers. Conversely, since the Church is literally Christ’s Body, they somehow taste and experience the sufferings that Christ suffered on the cross, particularly when sharing Christ’s love. Under this construction the atonement is lost, or at least is incomplete. Man saves himself as much as Christ saves man because man is entering into redemptive suffering with Christ.  
    In conclusion, the Protestant position must be affirmed over the Roman Catholic teaching on suffering and glory. It has been shown from the text examined that to share in Christ’s sufferings is not to perpetually complete His redemptive work, but rather to follow in His footsteps down the road of trials and persecutions that leads to glory. It is because of Christ’s suffering for us that we can suffer like Him in the sense that we suffer righteously. We suffer righteously because we are in Him. In Christ we can joyfully suffer for righteousness’ sake because Christ’s Spirit guarantees we will persevere to the end as He did and enter into the glory He now has.

APPENDIX: Translation of 1 Peter 4:12-19 (ESV)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And
“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

[1] Reinhard Feldmeier, The First Letter of Peter: a Commentary On the Greek Text (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2008), 223
[2] J. Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 49, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Thomas Nelson, 1988), 257
[3] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Gra: Baker Pub Group, 1987), 173
[4] Ibid.
[5] Daniel Keating, First and Second Peter, Jude, ed. Peter Williamson and Mary Healy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 107
[6] Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, 173
[7] David Walls, Holman New Testament Commentary - 1 & 2 Peter, 1 2 & 3 John and Jude, niv based ed., ed. Max Anders (Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Reference, 1999), 74
[8] Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, 174
[9] Walls, Holman New Testament Commentary, 75
[10] Feldmeier, The First Letter of Peter, 224
[11] J. Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 49, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Thomas Nelson, 1988), 262
[12] Paul J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter: a Commentary On First Peter, ed. Eldon Jay Epp (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1996),306
[13] Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, 176
[14] Ibid. 177
[15] Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary, 267
[16] Ibid.
[17] Feldmeier, The First Letter of Peter, 227
[18] Walls, Holman New Testament Commentary, 76
[19] Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, 180
[20] Ibid.
[21] Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary, 270-1
[22] Walls, Holman New Testament Commentary, 77
[23] Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, 181
[24] Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 290-294
[25] Ibid. 293
[26] Ibid.
[27] Feldmeier, The First Letter of Peter, 223
[28] Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, 181
[29] Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 317
[30] Jobes, 1 Peter, 294
[31] Feldmeier, The First Letter of Peter,229
[32] Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary,182
[33] Walls, Holman New Testament Commentary, 77
[34] Feldmeier, The First Letter of Peter,229
[35] Jobes, 1 Peter, 295
[36] Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, 183
[37] Walls, Holman New Testament Commentary, 77
[38] Feldmeier, The First Letter of Peter,230
[39] Pope John Paul II, “Salvifici Doloris” (letter), May 9, 2013).