1 Peter 1:6-7, Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
On the last blog entry, I introduced you to this long running series on Facing Trials. Let’s start by examining what Peter means by this “heaviness.” It means to be in grief—that we are troubled. Christian teachers usually take this passage and teach it means we have to suffer in this world because of its sinful condition. While that is true, it also means the suffering of these things cause us grief. In the introduction to this series, I said the Christian lifestyle is paradoxical, and St. Paul gives a list of paradoxes that he uses to describe the Christian life: “We are troubled on every side yet not distressed; we are perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken; cast down but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). The paradoxical condition of the Christian lifestyle is what makes it so unique—that we can simultaneously experience a downcast spirit in multiple ways but also be comforted by and rely on the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit. This is possible because “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
In a brief sermon, Dean of Students at Concordia University-Ann Arbor, Reverend John Rathje, once said, “God’s promises are based on His faithfulness, not ours.” One may say, “If that’s so, then what’s the problem?” The problem is when we fail to maintain the balance and we allow this heaviness—this grief and distress—to put us in a perpetual state of misery. Paul is not saying we can’t experience these things simply because we’re Christians and he’s not saying we ought to deny those feelings. He’s saying that although we become troubled, Christ can prevent us from being too distressed. Although we become perplexed, Christ can prevent us from falling into despair. Although we are persecuted by the world, Christ never forsakes us. Although we are cast down by our enemies, they cannot destroy us (and if they do kill us, we still have the victory because we will see our Father in Heaven; therefore, they can never ultimately destroy us). Who else can do this for us? Not a single person. The danger is not that we become temporarily beset by any of these things, but that it becomes a perpetual state of misery we cannot get ourselves out of and that as a result, people observing Christianity will identify it with this grieving heaviness rather than our great rejoicing in Jesus Christ.
Stay tuned for next time when I continue discussing this “heaviness.”