The image that instantly enters my mind as I read these verses is that of the Romanian Pastor, Richard Wurmbrand, imprisoned and tortured for his faith under Communist Russia, dancing for joy in his tiny cell! The rational part of me understands how trials and suffering can hone your faith, but the man who lives in a prosperous Western country where Christianity is still part of the establishment cannot comprehend the man dancing for joy in the presence of the Lord, whilst awaiting the next call to further torture! Peter does not then speak principally to us in this passage but to the persecuted Church, those even in the twenty first century who are in prison and tortured, who have lost family and livelihoods, all because they won't back down from following Jesus! These trials not only test what there is in us of pure gold, but refine it so it becomes of higher quality. For the present, believers in the UK can only understand this to mean suffering as part of life's trials and I have seen many go through times of huge suffering and uncertainty which draw them closer to the throne of God. When all is swept away, when no longer are there any securities left to cling on to-financial, family, friends-then God remains our Rock, everything else is shown up for what it is-a running after the wind. Verse 8 is one of the most beautiful in the Bible. It puts clearly and poetically the quixotic nature of our stance: we love and give our lives to someone whom we have never seen. In the old days, we had pen friends whom we wrote to regularly and waited some weeks perhaps for a reply. Jesus, in one sense, is like them: He sends us love letters and we read them as we study the Bible. Look, for instance, at the book of the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon), but in passages elsewhere such as in Isaiah (for example, 54 v 4-8), Hosea (such as 2 v 14-23) and so on. Let me emphasise again that Christianity is not at its core, a religion but a living, loving relationship with Almighty God!
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