I pray you enjoy this message and God speaks to you through it. To listen to this message you can hear it on the Beech Grove United Methodist Church Podcast (podcast releases Monday mornings), or by clicking here.
* Sermon audio does not match the manuscript…sometimes the Spirit moves
How We Understand God
Many times as a Christian and especially as a pastor, I have heard God referred to as “The Great Physician.”
As if God is one who magically heals all our wounds and ailments. We turn to God when we are sick or in desperate need of a healing measure almost expecting that God will step in and make everything right. Not that we should not go to God in these situations, but I always wondered how we process the world, when those prayers are not answered. When the person we prayed for dies and they don’t find the miracle cure, when we don’t get the answer we are looking for, or even the answer we got leads us into a nature of more suffering.
We then offer platitudes like,
- “Maybe it was a part of God’s plan…”
- “Maybe you asked for the wrong thing…”
- “Maybe you didn’t have enough faith…”
Well here is my not-so-hot, hot take: maybe we are using God in the wrong respect.
I have struggled with thinking of God as a Great Physician in the way we want them to be. We want it to be some spiritual magic and for things to work out the way we want.
I often respond to the way perceive the manner God uses their power. Maybe the perceived absence of God in our suffering is more our spiritual blindness to God’s true role in this world.
What if God is not “The Great Physician,” but “The Great Therapist?”
Many of us might shift uncomfortably in our seats at the thought of that, but hear me out because I think this is the path that Peter, or the writer of 1 Peter here is bringing us towards.
A Living Hope (A Recap)
We have reached the end of this letter, and thereby the last week of this Easter season. We have spent this time exploring 1 Peter, and unpacking this nature of “The Living Hope” we hear about first in 1 Peter 1:3. We have explored that it is the Spirit of Christ, the very Spirit of God that embodies this living hope, and it is done so within each of us.
This ideology begins with the joy that is expressed as an extension of God’s gift of grace to us. Then unpacked in how God looks after us, a theme of this living hope, we know that we are never forsaken by God. It is God’s nature as one who has suffered, suffering we see not just in Christ’s life, ministry, and death, but also throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and story of the Israelite people.
The foundational understanding of life and faith invites us to consider our role in the community. However, to also recognize that this role extends beyond the mere surface nature of our faith. Now we come to the end of this letter, and Peter is trying to wrap up this lesson for those who are destined to read it through the ages.
One final reminder to bring home this valuable lesson.
There is no sense when Peter writes this letter that he thinks it will be included in the canonical series of scripture, but he is merely trying to provide a sense of comfort for those who are followers of the way of Christ in biblical times. It stands to reason that we also read this with the ears of early Christians, and note what it is that Peter is calling the people towards.
Namely, Peter is calling Early Christians towards a reminder of God as a source of comfort in times of despair. Setting ourselves in this early time, there is much persecution for Christians and much confusion as to the very nature of what it means to be Christian.
In answering these questions, we are brought to see God, not as the fixer of all problems, but as the source of healing. Healing is a word that might make us uncomfortable, but one that offers us a way to move forward in the world, even when suffering is a part of our collective past. Peter wants us to consider that it is God who truly hears and cares about everything that is happening to us.
Why then do we feel uncomfortable going to God?
I remember when I started going to therapy and began to talk about my anxiety, it always felt like everyone was telling me, “Just don’t be anxious.” It felt like an impossible task to accomplish.
Then when I finally started therapy, my first therapist told me that it is impossible for our anxiety to just go away, but it is in our anxiety being heard that we can begin to process it and release our cares of being bound to it.
A Healthy Lesson of Faith
This can be a healthy lesson to carry over to our faith. Yes, there is a medical propensity to anxiety in some persons in society, but more broadly everybody has stresses and anxieties. It is important for us to recognize the unhealthy nature of holding on to these things all by ourselves.
My therapist reminded me that “releasing our cares/anxieties” is not about just making them disappear, but allowing others to help us bear the load of them, and that is what Peter is calling us to do with God in this scenario.
The name of this game is to never forget that God is there for you. We read in verse seven.
“Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion, your adversary, the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour”1 Peter 5:7
Side Note: Our ears may perk up more at the mention of a “devil figure,” Yet we would be remiss to look beyond what is physically written there and begin to think what the spiritual implications are at play in this statement Peter offers. I think this verse is speaking to us to help us, understand the room for doubt that comes when we fail to turn to God to help carry the load of our cares and anxieties.
We have talked in this series about how Christ’s empathy is the grounding part of how we live our faith. The suffering that Christ endured helps us to understand God more. Unfortunately, it takes the suffering of Christ and looking at Christ’s suffering and experiencing it ourselves as humans to build that empathy.
However, it is in this final reminder that it is made abundantly clear to us that it is through this manner of suffering we are filled with God’s grace, not because we have suffered, but because we have turned to God in our suffering.
Unfortunately, we know that there is nothing we can do to stop the suffering of the world, except to live in the full love of God. If we cannot do that, then continued harm, and suffering will perpetuate this world. So how do we end this perpetual suffering? How do we move beyond it?
What We Can Learn From 1 Peter 5:7
We turn to verses like this that let us know in our suffering, anxieties, or concerns we should turn to God, and by turning to God we turn to the people of God as well. We turn to the source of strength of comfort and hope that we know healing can take place.
Instead of trying to answer the question, “Why does God allow suffering to happen” why instead do we not focus on how God can get us through our suffering? To think that the smallest amount of doubt can creep in and shake our faith, should be something that really heightens our spiritual senses.
We think someone like Peter is crazy for making a statement as it’s made in 4:13 “But rejoice in so far as you are sharing, Christ suffering, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.”
How can we ever find joy in Christ’s suffering, let alone our own? It almost seems there is a loss of hope in all of that, and yet Peter calls us to the very source of hope that exists in our faith, our God.
Peter is not trying to justify suffering…Because honestly, there is no justification for suffering. At least not from the divine. In order to find true justification for suffering, we have to look inwardly, at ourselves, at humanity, at society, and really begin to unpack how we have failed one another. But in our suffering, we cannot turn away from God, because that is when we allow room for the suffering to then be able to control us.
Fear and Suffering and Doubt
I think I’ve used this analogy before, but it always comes to me when I read these sorts of thematic biblical texts. I grew up watching all of the Star Wars movies, and it often hits me when Yoda talks about the path to the dark side.
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”Yoda in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
And I think if we had an opportunity to finish and connect the final dots, for us as Christians, when that suffering presents itself as a lack of being able to find any healing that will lead us to the “Darkside”.
Peter cares so deeply for the community of Christians in Jerusalem, Rome, and all over, wherever they are present. He knows they are suffering. He knows they are suffering for doing good, and it breaks his heart, just as it breaks the heart of God. However, he knows the place that Christians should turn to in the midst of this suffering to help them find graceful healing that will not lead to more anger or hatred.
This last chapter ties together all of the themes and ideas we have looked at over the entire Easter season. And we continue to come back to this point the point raised in first Peter 1:3.
“By Christ, great mercy we have been given a new birth into a living hope.”1 Peter 1:3
As we close the series, we have leaned into what this living hope is. It is the spirit of Christ that exists and lives through each and every one of us. The problem becomes, can we hold onto it when life gets tough? Because if we can’t, it is the inkling of doubt that begins to creep in that will lead us down that dark path of despair and hopelessness.
In Peter’s closing words he reiterates,
“Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.”1 Peter 5:9
Closing with Grace
Like I said, at the beginning, sometimes I think we ask the wrong questions. Sometimes I think we look to God in the wrong way. We weren’t going to be the ultimate problem solver when that is not the nature of who God actually is.
Do I wish with the snap of a finger God could stop all suffering in the world and solve all of our problems?
Yes, but then I might look like Thanos in the latest Avengers movies.
That is not the faith that we live in. We exist in a broken world, distorted by images of evil and hatred, we look to God as a source of healing in our suffering. Not as a resolution to all suffering, but as a source of hope, as we continue to journey these uncertain waters. If we cannot come to God in our need, not expecting solutions, but looking for comfort, guidance, and strength to continue forward.
I think when we begin to think of God more as “The Great Therapist” the more our spirits will see and experience the true nature of God’s grace. I urge you to open your heart to this idea. Cast all your cares upon God. Cast all your anxieties. Cast all of you, so that God can begin the work of helping you find healing to keep your soul from building the hatred that pervades and the evils of this world.