SUFFER FOR DOING GOOD . . . Boshart on Barnes, and Barnes on I Peter

“Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.” (I Peter 3:16b-17 from I Peter 3:13-22)

As I pondered and considered this verse, focus came to rest on the phrase “if suffering should be God’s will” and there is stayed. After trying to divert myself to another aspect of the phrase, I gave in and thought “This is where my focus needs to be”. But now what? And as I often do when in doubt I consulted Albert Barnes. But to my surprise I actually disagreed with some of what Barnes had to say. I was slightly surprised, but then Barnes did write in a different era than we are in now, and with that change in era came changes in theological thinking. So what I propose to do in interact and comment on what Barnes said. You will know it is me, because I will place my comments in italicized [square brackets].

“For it is better, if the will of God be so (verse 17a) – That is, if God sees it to be necessary for your good that you should suffer, it is better that you should suffer for doing well than for crime. [I, and perhaps you too gentle reader, do not believe that God would think it is for our own good to suffer. God does not want us to suffer, but if we suffer because the world that we live in is a place where people suffer, God will be with us and thus partnering with God our suffering will not be in vain.] God often sees it to be necessary that his people should suffer. [No, God does not. It is not necessary but inevitable, and while God weeps when we suffer, we often learn lessons or mature because of the suffering. And God is there to help us through it.] There are effects to be accomplished by affliction which can be secured in no other way [This is true, but it does not mean that God deems it necessary for us to suffer, but the Divine will bring good out of the bad the world inflicts] ; and some of the happiest results on the soul of a Christian, some of the brightest traits of character, are the effect of trials. [This is true too. But only because our Lord can redeem the darkest of experiences.] But it should be our care that our sufferings should not be brought upon us for our own crimes or follies. No man can promote his own highest good by doing wrong, and then enduring the penalty which his sin incurs; and no one should do wrong with any expectation that it may be overruled for his own good. If we are to suffer, let it be by the direct hand of God, [Here again Barnes and I diverge. The hand of God does not direct suffer but neither does God defuse it. We endure it because of God’s presence is with us.] and not by any fault of our own. If we suffer then, we shall have the testimony of our own conscience in our favor, and the feeling that we may go to God for support. If we suffer for our faults, in addition to the outward pain of body, we shall endure the severest pangs which man can suffer – those which the guilty mind inflicts on itself.”

I suspect that Barnes and the writer of I Peter are closer in thinking on this passage than I and Barnes, or I and the writer of I Peter. Maybe my view of God is a softer and gentler one, and that may be a good thing or it may not. It is not likely to change though. Until that very inevitable event, I will continue to believe in a God that weeps when we weep and is joyful when are joyful, rejoice when we do good for the Lord and despairs when we work against God’s plans and intentions.

May you gentle reader suffer as little as possible in this world that sometimes seems set against us, and may God be with you encouraging you to keep up your good work and good conduct. Selah! And shalom for your day.