“The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We live in an impatient culture. We like getting the rewards without going through the labor. We want get-rich-quick schemes and fast result diets and exercise programs. If there is any discomfort to be had, we want to do everything possible to shorten its duration as much as we can. Better than that is to avoid it entirely in the first place. Yet this isn’t how the world actually works. If we want to experience something truly good, we have to follow the path to get there. All of it. As he is concluding his powerful little letter, the apostle Peter offers his readers the assurance of God’s incredible intervention in their lives. Yet this blessing does not come without first walking the road to get to it. Let’s talk about that road this morning.
Writing after last night’s incredible college football championship game, it seems appropriate to make at least some reference to the event this morning. The Georgia Bulldogs won. By a lot. That outcome honestly seemed to most people like it was a foregone conclusion from the very first week of the season, but I don’t know that anyone imagined it would be quite so definitive in its arrival as a 65-7 drubbing of their opponent, Texas Christian University. TCU was a good team who had a really good season. They just came up against a Georgia team playing more like an NFL squad. Speaking of that, I suspect there are already some NFL teams salivating over the chance to draft Georgia quarterback, Stetson Bennett, later this year. As rightly celebrated as he is, though, that has not been his story throughout his college career.
For starters, Bennett is 25. For a 25-year-old to be playing against 18-year-olds like he was (let alone with them) has to feel a bit like a high school senior playing against a local pee-wee league team. That’s the same age spread. Yet for a student to still be in college in pursuit of his degree at 25 is not at all the norm. Before I turned 26, I had a master’s degree, a job, a beautiful wife, and our first child. This all says Bennett’s career has likely not gone the way he was hoping it would when he was graduating from high school after a very successful career there.
Bennett likely grew up a passionate fan of the Georgia Bulldogs given that both of his parents graduated from there. Coming out of high school where he led his team to three consecutive playoff appearances, he no doubt had visions of playing for his favorite team. The problem was, they weren’t interested. In fact, only one Division I school offered him a scholarship…and it wasn’t even in the state. Undeterred, he managed to convince coach Kirby Smart to give him a spot on the roster as a walk-on.
After one season of riding the bench for his favorite team, it became clear that he simply wasn’t at the level that was going to give him a chance to prove himself there. So, when they signed the highly touted incoming freshman, Justin Fields, Bennett transferred to a local junior college where he spent the next two seasons working to improve his game. In addition to honing his skills, if he was ever going to have a chance to play for anybody else, let alone a Division I school, he was going to have to demonstrate that his small stature wasn’t going to be a drawback. What little bit of talent he lacked he made up for with hard work, and after two strong seasons in the wilderness, he was finally offered a scholarship to Georgia. They needed a backup.
The next season, then, he spent mostly on the bench. The following season, every time it looked like he was going to get his chance, someone else came in to take the spot instead. In his third season (his original freshman season didn’t count) he looked forward to the chance to be the backup yet again until the starter got hurt. Everything he had worked for throughout his entire life was suddenly put on the line. And after setting the Georgia record for the most touchdown passes in a single game (five), it became clear that his long journey of hard work had paid off. The starting spot was his. He went on that season to lead Georgia to their first national title in more than a generation. This year, of course, he led them there again, putting Georgia in a very elite pool of schools that have won back-to-back championships. Let the speculations of how long Georgia’s dominant dynasty will last begin.
The success Bennett is experiencing now did not come quickly or easily. He worked for it. Hard. For a long time. I suspect there were not a few days when he felt like quitting. There were probably days he was so discouraged that he was sorely tempted to give into the belief that he was never going to get there. And, what comes from here is hardly guaranteed. Unless he gets drafted to a team with a superlatively excellent offensive line, a 5’9″190 lb. quarterback in the NFL is likely to get made into a punching bag the first time a 6’6″ 350 lb. defensive lineman comes calling. To say that he will yet have to prove himself if he wants this journey to go forward any further is likely a rather significant understatement. But he has demonstrated a patience and commitment to the path so far that will undoubtedly serve him well in the next part of his journey.
Now, I don’t have any idea where Bennett stands when it comes to questions of faith, but his story nonetheless offers a helpful window into better understanding what the apostle Peter writes here. This entire letter is to a group of believers who were struggling and suffering under the weight of a culture that did not like them. It was geared in almost every way toward making their lives as difficult and miserable as possible. He was writing to encourage them to stick to the path of Christ in spite of the challenges mounting in their way. They were to do this by leaning into His character every chance they got. They were to be good citizens, good husbands and wives, and good neighbors. They were to be kind and respectful with everyone they met. And if they did all of these things faithfully and well, they were probably still going to face suffering and persecution. But that was okay, because God had their back. He was making them into a people fit for His kingdom. If they would trust Him and stick to the path, they would eventually experience its happy end.
That all brings us to this closing promise. God Himself would restore them and establish them and strengthen them and support them. What an incredible promise! He was going to undo and overcome everything evil they were going through. He was going to come and make all things right once again. And He was going to do all of this…”after you have suffered a little while.” Talk about taking the wind out of their sails. Suffering was the very thing they were hoping to experience less of. And here Peter was assuring them that more was coming. In fact, God’s amazing rescue was waiting for them on the other side of the suffering. I suspect not a few of them were thinking something along the lines of: What kind of hope is that supposed to offer us?
Well…what kind of hope is this supposed to offer us?
As Peter would write in his second letter, God’s arrival to make all things right is coming. We can have absolute confidence in that. But it is going to come on His timetable, not ours. And His timetable is such that He is giving time and space for as many people as possible to have the chance to embrace His invitation to salvation. Until that time, while He will still actively work to restrain the worst of sin’s evil, He won’t stop all of it. Until then, judgment is not yet. And as long as judgment is delayed and sin is on the loose, suffering will be an ever-present reality. He can and will redeem that suffering and use it to make us more reflective of Him so that we are better fit for His kingdom, but we will nonetheless suffer.
Okay, but again, what kind of hope is this supposed to offer us?
For that, we have to pay close attention to what Peter says here as well as what he has said in the rest of the letter along with the testimony of the rest of the New Testament authors. While he is unashamedly honest about the fact of our suffering, we can rest assured that it will only be for a “little while.” Our suffering will never be for more than a little while. Yeah, but what about people who spend years suffering from a disease or under conditions of persecution? How is that supposed to be a “little while”? We have to make clear what our reference point is. If our reference point is merely this life, then yes, that suffering is indeed long. But if we change our point of reference to something longer than this life, say, the eternity we will have to enjoy God’s kingdom, it is barely a blip on the radar.
God’s restoration, establishment, strengthening, and support will be eternal. That is, they won’t end. But the suffering will. Whatever it is you are facing at the moment, if it is not a direct reflection of God’s eternal kingdom, it won’t last. It will come to an end. And, yes, that end may coincide with the end of your time in this life, but there is another life coming that will last forever without end. Live toward that. It will sometimes feel hard to see, but keep looking. Its coming is promised by the God who cannot lie. Endure the path between here and there with hopefulness because the suffering will never be for more than a little while.