The group, Fun, rose to fame in 2012, with the album “Some Nights”, which included the song of the year, “We are young.”
Their genre is called Rock Pop…I call it passionate nihilism…energetic nothingness.
I am not mocking the music…I think they are enormously talented; I am referring to the fact that the driving melody energetically delivers lyrics that are…searching but not finding anything of substance.
You might say, “it’s just music, Terry.”
Yes, and music is driven by worldviews…and music helps shape people’s worldviews.
One song from the album, “Carry on” demonstrates this passionate nihilism well.
Here’s a line from the song.
So, I met up with some friends at the edge of the night at a bar off 75 And we talked and talked about how our parents will die all our neighbors and wives.
The refrain goes like this…
“If you’re lost and alone or sinking’ like a stone. Carry on
May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground. Carry on, carry on.”
We find a group of friends drinking in a bar off highway 75… discussing the universal reality of death…death of the ones closest to them.
And… their conclusion?
Lost and alone, sinking like a stone…carry on.
But “why?” and “How”
May your past be the sound of your feet on the ground.
Live in the now, in not the regrets or guilt of the past…how?
The group is named fun…they do have fun energetic melody, but the lyrics of some of their best-selling songs are not so much.
This dissonance…passionate delivery and empty meaning…to me resembles current American life.
A desperate search for “life” guided purely by our own “passions” with no real substance or foundation.
The pursuit of fun…but it’s all fake energy, nothing real or substantial.
“If you are lost and alone and sinking like a stone”…what then? “Carry on”
How? and Why?
Military has spent billions on suicide prevention and resilience training.
I taught the required annual training for many years…to largely bored and disinterested airmen.
I am a believer in the need for and value of resilience and suicide raining but after years of being trained and training others I’ve seen the fatal flaw in the purely secular approach.
There is no foundational “why” and there is no powerful “how.”
I went earlier this year to a few days of Army master resilience training…it was presented as a comprehensive approach (spiritual, mental, physical, social) …it was not comprehensive.
When I questioned them on this, pointing out it was all cognitive, or mental…they shrugged and said, “we leave the other parts to other people.”
Who are these other people?
How are soldiers and airmen to make sense out of the whole…where are they to find a foundational “why” and a powerful “how”?
Here is the outcome of this.
The people who are in circumstances who most need to practice resilience habits…people who have lost hope and their very lives are in danger..most often lack the foundational “why”…why should I care?
They are told in mandated training, “You should be resilience, you should bounce, you should not take your own life.”
“Well,” the experts say, “It’s not good” or “you matter” or “It’s bad for your family or your unit” or “It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
Do you see any foundational “why” in all that?
I don’t, neither do the many who are struggling deeply.
Those are little “why’s”, but they are not big enough “whys?”
There is something else that is missing other than a foundational “why.”
There is no powerful “How”?
The training is human centric…”when you’re lost and alone, sinking like a stone…carry on.”
How exactly does a sinking stone, carry on?
It has no arms, legs, no motor…it has no means to do anything other than to sink.
What power does a sinking stone have to carry on?
Now, the training does focus on relying on others…not just self…but this doesn’t help when people feel or actually are isolated.
It also doesn’t provide a powerful “how”
Perhaps there is some perceived consolation in drowning together…but there is no powerful “how” to avoid sinking.
If I were drowning, I would trade all the sympathy in the world for a rope pulling me to shore.
Resilience is good means to an end…it is a virtually useless end in itself.
The end must be “to Be found faithful.”
Thinking about the different aspects of our stewardship…mental, physical, social, spiritual…is good and helpful.
But resilience is a terrible end in itself…there is no foundational “why” and no powerful “how.”
I should be as healthy as possible until I die…why?
God has called us to faithfulness…that final “Well done, good and faithful son/daughter” is our foundational “why.”
We want to be faithful for the glory of God and the good of others…that is our highest good.
The glory of God precedes the good of others as a “why”?
If you serve others with your life but in the end, they die and you die and there is no eternal glory of God…then, in the end, so what…what did your service matter?
God has empowered us for faithfulness…our grit, “carry on, carry on” is empowered by God’s grace.
I said the musical genre of “Fun” is passionate emptiness and that would describe culture at large.
In the end, for many, nothing really matters.
If nothing matters at the end, nothing matters now.
I can just make stuff up…invent meaning…and many do.
But you can only fool yourself into thinking things you have made up for yourself, actually matter for so long…and for some, it isn’t very long at all.
In fact, it is getting earlier, that people are losing hope.
Children are now concluding it’s all a sham…they are not waiting to mid-life or later to become dangerously hopeless.
The fact is, everything matters, or nothing matters.
Everything only matters, if in the end, God’s glory through our faithfulness is the highest human good.
Nothing matters, if in the end, there is nothing…just death.
My suffering or my pleasure…in the end…who cares?
My wasted life or my life of service to others…in the end…so what?
I sat in the middle of the night this past week listening to my dad suffer, and pray, and recount his life in mumbled sentences.
I thought of his long and interesting life…I told the nurse, who had never left the country…that my dad, who, had been a high school dropout, had probably been to at least 80 countries.
He had, been the president of companies, flown his own planes…built pipelines around the world…now, he lay there unable to rise up from the bed or care for his own smallest needs.
I thought…it all matters, even this, even this night of weakness, and sickness and pain…or none of it mattered…including all the great things he has done and seen.
This time of suffering and weakness matters as much as his countless acts of service to others…it all matters or none of it does.
Now, I wasn’t wondering about any this.
I wasn’t confused, I wasn’t having crisis of faith
I know the answer…I was reflecting on the reality that his suffering matters…this is faithfulness for him now at the end of a really great life.
I heard him mumbling in the middle of one night…I got closer and could see him in the glow of the machines and I heard him say, over and over…”Praise you father God…praise you.”
I don’t like what faithfulness looked like for my dad or me for at three in the morning in ICU.
But I didn’t wonder…”Does this matter? Did all he did matter?”
I know the answer.
Today, we are going to focus on one of the most important, corrective and protective verses for our time, 1 Peter 4:12
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. NIV
1. He begins…Dear friends/Beloved
He is not rebuking them…”What’s wrong with you” “Are you stupid, sinful, weak…which is it?”
No… he begins with…dear friends.
He is not insensitive or unaware of how difficult suffering is.
He doesn’t write, “Hey, suck it up!” “What’s wrong with you?”
“Dear friends” he begins…this is important to see.
Peter knows this is hard…he learned to approach this topic in this way from Jesus…his friend and Lord.
Peter was there, he saw Jesus weep at the grave of his friend Lazarus.
He was one in the crowd who was touched by the scene and said “Wow, he really loves Lazarus.”
But then he saw Jesus raise Lazarus to life again…then he was wondering “Why was he sad if he knew Lazarus would live again?”
Because death is bad and sad.
Suffering is hard.
And final hope doesn’t remove temporary pain…ibut t does put it in a larger context.
Paul wrote, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all.”
There are theological and philosophical answers to the problem of evil and suffering…but in the end, suffering is enormously personal…and so is the answer to suffering.
Philosophically people try to argue against the existence or goodness of God by talking about the “total sum of human misery.”
As if human pain is a math problem.
Pain times lots of people equals no God.
CS Lewis wrote, “We must never make the problem of pain worse than it is by the vague talk of “unimaginable sum of human misery.”
He uses the illustration of a person sitting in a dentist’s office with intense tooth pain, if another person enters the room with the same pain…you can say, there is double the pain in the room now, but no one is suffering more than their own pain…it hasn’t doubled.
Lewis wrote: There is no such thing as a sum of suffering…when we have reached the maximum that a single person can suffer, we have, no doubt, reached something very horrible but we have reached all the suffering there ever can be in the universe. The addition of a million fellow sufferers adds no more pain.
Sitting in coffee shops, or a bar off highway 75 we can discuss pain and suffering in detached, philosophical ways.
Sitting in actual pain, or all night in icu rooms, or at funerals…we know the question is personal and the answer must be personal as well.
There are 7 Biblical themes, large categories that address the problem and purposes of human suffering.
There is no slam dunk, easy answer…because there is nothing easy about this.
But in the end, the best and final answer is a personal one.
I won’t elaborate in depth, but I’ll give all 7 biblical themes in brief…we will unpack this more in late fall at River Christian Training classes.
1. Suffering can lead to God’s glory.
-“Who sinned that this man was born blind.”
-“No one, this was for the glory of God to be revealed.”
Peter has addressed this in his letter that we have been working through.
Suffering well can lead to God being glorified.
2. Suffering can lead to sanctification. Spiritual growth in us becoming like Christ.
-Peter addressed this in our passage from last week
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.”
Suffering doesn’t make us sinless, but it can, if we respond in faith and faithfulness, break sins grip on our lives.
3. Suffering can draw the lost to Christ
-Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a sleeping world, God whispers in pleasure and shouts in pain.
-This is part of my story, and the story of many of my friends.
*When I was 22 I sat at bedside of friend just hours before he died at age 25…as he said, “This is worth it to me Terry.”
How could be it.
His family had come to faith through his faith revealed in suffering…God had granted him the faith and vision to see his suffering as having ultimate meaning because of ultimate impact on lives.
4. Suffering can be the result of sin
-Be careful, not all suffering is the result of individual sin (it is the result of “sin” entering the world)
-But we cannot draw a straight line from every sinful action to some specific suffering.
-This was a common worldview then (and subtly so now) that every problem or pain is a tangible punishment for some sin.
-At the time of Jesus, it was overt…”Who sinned that this man was born blind?”
-“No one did” Jesus replied…this would have been shocking to them.
-Many today, even those who are not religious, are superstitious.
They believe in a form of Karma…good and bad in our lives is because of our own good and bad deeds.
-Peter said, if you suffer it should not be because sin.
So, some suffering is not the result of our own bad choices…but clearly some is.
If we break our health because of foolish life choices…we must not cry out “why God”?
Or if we destroy relationships through sin and selfishness…we must not ask “why God”?
The answer is obvious.
We can be forgiven; we need not pay eternally for our sins…but the consequences in this life often will not be removed.
If you drink and drive and lose a leg in accident…you can be forgiven but God will not grow, you a new leg.
God can intervene in the world as he chooses…but as a whole, we live in a universe that he has designed in a cause-and-effect way.
Our choices matter.
5. Suffering can originate in Satan, our spiritual enemy
-Not all suffering is satanic…to think so is simplistic
-Some suffering is…to not believe so is simplistic
Some disbelieve in spiritual beings, like demons…they believe they are more enlightened, less simplistic in their thinking that those from times and cultures who assigned problems to spiritual entities.
But to add science and subtract the spiritual reality from the universe is just another form of an overly simplistic worldview.
So, the scientifically uninformed person from a culture who believes all fever is caused by demons and not by a virus is wrong.
But the uniformed person from our modern culture who understands a virus but fails to see spiritual forces at work in the lives of people is also wrong.
Both are only seeing a partial view of reality.
So, don’t just rebuke Satan if you need medicine…your ignorance, not the devil, may kill you.
But don’t believe science can save you if the problem is spiritual in nature.
6. Suffering is mysterious
How can this be an answer? It is a good answer.
Often we don’t know why.
Because we cannot have a full view of what God is up to.
Job is the best example of this…he never knew the “why” of his suffering, though we, the readers do,
He had to learn to trust the sovereign and powerful and good God in the midst of the mystery of his suffering…and he did.
When the other 5 motifs don’t seem to fit…that’s okay…there is going to be mystery in a lot of the trouble of our lives now.
The question will be then, “Will I trust God when I don’t understand?”
Which brings to us to the last answer to the question of “why am I suffering? Why doesn’t God do something?”
This is the very personal answer to the question…because it is based in a person, Jesus.
7. Jesus is the final answer to the question: God, if you are good and powerful, why don’t you do something about my suffering?
God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom. 5:8
God communicates his love for us in his words…he tells us.
God demonstrated his love for us in Jesus…he showed us.
“God when will you do something about all this mess?”
He has, he is, he will.
Christ has come, Christ will return.
We live in the middle, somewhere, of the end…the middle of God’s decisive response to evil and suffering.
1 Peter 4:7 “The end of all things is near.”
A child whose parent has earned her trust is able to endure mystery in pain…it’s not less painful, but trust empowers relationship rather than destroying it.
Norah has endured a lot of pain in her young life.
Her parents have many times, taken her to into some painful circumstances.
Once a year they travel to Chicago where she undergoes a week of tests and procedures…. they leave today in fact.
Norah does not distrust Corrie or Curtis because of this…Norah trusts her parents though she doesn’t understand it all.
In the pain, that her mom, for Norah’s good, delivers her to…Norah is most comforted by her mom…she wants her.
This is a good, though not perfect picture of the gospel.
Jesus has “earned” not just our salvation but our trust.
Again, in the end, suffering is never purely philosophical, though it can be discussed that way.
It will be for all of us very personal.
And in the very personal form that suffering takes…our comfort will not be in philosophical answers but in a trust relationship with Christ.
So, Peter…this fisherman turned follower turned failure turned expert theologian was writing to hearts not just heads.
He knows personally how this works.
And so, he writes, “Dear friends, don’t be surprised.”
2. Don’t be surprised
It is important here to notice that he doesn’t write:
“I’m glad you are not surprised.”
“Shame on you for being surprised.”
“Don’t be surprised” indicates a couple of important realities:
1. Suffering is surprising and disorientating. Being surprised is normal.
2. It is essential that we learn to reorientate in our suffering…to not live in shocked surprise, but to reorient.
1. Suffering is surprising and disorientating and this is normal.
That’s why there is no rebuke here, just a gentile reframing.
Every funeral I’ve led for many years I say, “What you feel is a normal response to an abnormal situation.”
How can death be abnormal? Everyone dies.
Well, my mom had never died before…never in human history had my mom died.
Not since 1930 had planet earth existed without Sara on it…that was weird.
So, yes, it was a weird new world…and it was surprising in a sense…even though we knew for several years she was going to die.
Again…cognitively we all know we are not exempt from suffering…but actual experience demonstrates that suffering is surprising.
So, Peter is not rebuking here, “Hey, stop being surprised! What’s wrong you?”
My wife has near mortal fear of spiders…her response is non-voluntary.
She has gotten better…but if she is surprised by one…there is going to be a physical and verbal response.
Little good it would do to say, “Hey, don’t be surprised by spiders.”
So, Peter is not just saying “Stop!”
He is telling them that though this feels surprising…it doesn’t mean that something “unusual” is happening.
This is now normal…though it feels abnormal.
He is reframing…we will address that reframing next week.
2. It is essential that we learn to reorientate in suffering.
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”
The Psalms are full of testimony of being shocked, surprised, disoriented by trouble and suffering…then they describe the process of turning to God and being reorientated.
This feels strange, Peters writes…in a sense it is new to you…but it’s not strange in the sense that you should fail to prepare or to expect it.
Two ditches we can fall into in regard to suffering…one can be described by the false worldview called Buddhism and the other ditch can be described by using the Christian heretical view called the “health and prosperity” gospel.
One ditch is passive resignation.
The other ditch is active unreality.
Buddhism is an example of falling into the ditch of passive resignation.
The four noble truths of Buddhism:
1. Life is suffering
2. Suffering is caused by desire.
3. Eliminate desire you eliminate suffering
4. Eliminate desire through the 8-fold path
We are not to reframe life as suffering or make the goal, the elimination of desire.
We are not trying to get to a place of passive resignation.
We are to actively and with growing passion…trust Christ whatever he brings to our lives.
The other ditch is the Christian heresy of “Health and prosperity gospel.”
I call it active unreality.
It is not passive, but it does not align with reality as it actually is.
This view says that Christ died not just for our sins but also to give us completely healthy and prosperous lives.
There is so much wrong, biblically, with this view.
There is a very small part of it…that is true…we do thrive in life as we live faithful lives.
But we are not promised health and wealth in unlimited supplies…or that our “faith demands” will obligate God in some way to do what we want.
Jesus said, “In this life you will have trouble.”
Peter wrote, “Don’t be surprised at the painful trial.”
Virtually all of those who followed Christ, and Christ himself…suffered.
How can we say that Christ intends to heal every disease when death is the ultimate disease…no one dies “healthy”…death is itself the failure of the physical body.
So, to reorient and reframe cannot be either the ditch of passive resignation or the ditch of unreality.
It must be, instead, the narrow road of faith and faithfulness.
We will talk about this road next week as we finish out this passage.
I said when we began that this passage is protective and corrective.
I want to end there.
The simple resilience model of preparation left of the bang isn’t perfect, but it does communicate some important principles.
We will be tested; the bang will come.
Left of the bang is the time to prepare…if you are in the bang now…more will come…get started training now.
This passage, or rather the truth that this passage communicates, protects us from losing our faith and failing to remain faithful when suffering comes.
This passage corrects us while we are in the middle of the bang.
If you are currently left of the bang…know that this is the most the most important time to train to trust Christ…and the most difficult…because you may lack motivation.
You have time, energy, space to grow…but you probably lack some motivation…”things are good or at least okay.”
You don’t feel the urgent need to prepare.
Every fall, when we returned to WSU campus for training for the coming football season…our coaches had timed trials to see who had trained that summer and who had not.
If you failed the test, you had to put in extra time (pain) to make up for failing to prepare left of the bang…it made things much harder.
It is hard to get off the couch in June…fall was a long way off, there was time…so we thought.
But the best time to train was the hardest time to train…because there was no perceived sense of urgency.
But we must train now.
If you are in a lethargic lull in training for godliness…rouse yourself…get help from others!
Wake up and step up.
It is often hardest to be faithful when there is no pressure on you…but that is when you must train for godliness.
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.
Part of the surprising nature of fiery testing…is the fact that we are unprepared for it.
If you are left of the bang…this verse has protective value.
If you are in the bang…it has corrective value.
The testing trial can be surprising, shocking.
“What is happening?”
“Where has God gone?”
“Where is the solid place I thought I could stand, the earth, (the Psalmist would say) has given way!”
No, Peter, gentle corrects…don’t be surprised…you are okay, God has not failed or forgotten you.
Fun had it partially right, “If you are lost and alone, and sinking like a stone…carry on.”
But carrying on is not a mere human activity…because if you are a believer, you are not lost and you are not alone.
That feeling of sinking like a stone is just that, a feeling.
Reorient to reality…Don’t be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as something strange were happening to you…BUT
Here comes, the great reorientation…verse 13
But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
We will go there next week as we look how this powerful reorientation impacts our lives.
My dad, trained to trust for many years…now, in the middle of his final, difficult test…what he has put in his heart and mind is coming out.
I listened to the nurses from the 3rd floor talking about him as they delivered him to the 8th floor…they didn’t know I could hear.
They were touched, moved by him and how he response to us, them, God in is suffering.
Train to trust now…act with faith and faithfulness now.
Everything matters or nothing does.
Truth is…everything does.
Whatever you do, whether in word or do, do it all for the glory of God.