“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” For some reason we read that and assume there should be no answer. If we really love God, how could He let us suffer? Peter wrote that line to a church in martyrdom. He’d die a martyr himself, crucified upside down. He made his defense for the hope that was in him upside down. On a cross. I don’t think he’s trying to make the point we think.
We imagine Christian witness is about power, intellect, charisma. Look how he found Jesus and got his life together. We imagine a witness apart from lowliness, humiliation, suffering. Nobody signs up for that stuff. We want a Christianity that makes our lives easier. It leaves us in the awkward position of trying to witness about a religion who’s symbol is the cross. When we imagine a Christianity apart from suffering, we imagine a Christianity apart from the cross. When you flee from suffering you flee from the cross. Peter calls suffering for righteousness’ sake a blessing. As someone who hates paper-cuts, that’s discouraging. I don’t want to hurt.
The thing is, “I don’t want to hurt” can become a religion to itself pretty quick. It has one great commandment. “Thou shalt not hurt”. To be fair, it sounds more appealing than any of God’s 10. The thing is, it offers no more hope. A religion that’s afraid to deal with suffering is a fragile thing. A religion that can’t explain it apart from a vengeful deity offers promises but never hope. If you don’t believe me look around. All the world bows to the goddess corona. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be terrified. I’m not saying the disease isn’t real. I’m asking how much hope do you really find in masks made from old tshirts? A religion that can’t deal with suffering leaves you always running, away from pain, and toward a promise that if only you do the right stuff, you won’t hurt.
Peter doesn’t promise a religion apart from suffering, but He doesn’t speak of a God apart from it either. Christ also suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous. Our God works through suffering, not apart from it. He doesn’t stand on the other side of glory and dangle hope. He dives into the flood and bears the sinners lost to it. If your hope is in not suffering, there’s no hope until you get there, and you’re looking over your shoulder even there. If your hope is in Jesus, and Jesus wades into the suffering for you, you can even hope down here.
You will not find God in a place with no suffering. You find Him on the cross for you. That doesn’t just change how we see suffering. It changes how we see ourselves. Jesus didn’t bear the cross for those who were zealous for what is good. He bore the cross for the people who got what they deserve, who suffer for doing evil, for the sinners. For us. And that cross names you good. Forgiven. Righteous. Not by what you did. Not by what you earned. By the God who suffers for you and on that cross works a good so powerful if changes who you are.
You’re not just innocent, someone who can self-righteously insist they don’t deserve what happens to them. You’re someone who can stare at the suffering and say that’s where my God works. He isn’t on the other side as a prize for making it through. He’s at the center of it to work mercy and love as He carries us through it. That cross is a source of hope now, even if it hurts. Hate that it hurts. But don’t think hope waits on the other side of that pain. Know God dwells in the midst of it to carry you. You’re someone who can look into the suffering and know that if God is there, it can’t destroy you. You’re baptized. The mark of hope isn’t a future promise. It’s a now reality. Baptism now saves you. Through water. Through the flood. Through all that’s wrong and evil and still washed away in the victory over death by Him who conquered it for you.
God saved Noah through the ark. God works through means. He used an ark for Noah. He uses the font for you. It gives you something to hold on to in the middle of storms and suffering. You are baptized. Today you are saved. Today you are with God. Today you have victory. Today you are blessed. Have a good conscience in the midst of it. Not because you made the right choices in the face of danger, but because God bore that for you to cleanse you from shame and guilt and fear.
I don’t know if Peter had courage or cowardice upside down on that cross, but I know he’s baptized. I know that afraid or not, God had already saved him. The upside down cross they put him on became a joke we tell each other. The world calls it satanic, but the petrine cross is an ancient Christian symbol. A reminder that salvation is ours today no matter what they call us. God bore the cross first, so that ours would be like His. We are the baptized. We don’t stay dead. You are being carried safely through water.