The concept of suffering is a heavily discussed topic within the bible. Early Christians celebrated the idea of suffering as a means of emulating the ways of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ experience with suffering is depicted multiple times within the bible, the most famous being his Passion. Other documentations of his suffering include The Agony in the Garden as well as his forty days and nights in the temptation-filled desert. These examples are only a few of the many glorifications of suffering in scripture. Christians strive to follow in Jesus’ footsteps in order to also gain God’s favor, as Jesus does through his enduring of these trials.
In the First Letter of Peter, the author (who Ehrman claims is most likely not Peter the disciple) makes statements regarding suffering and how doing so in the present will pay off once judgement day comes. 1 Peter 1:17-18 quotes, “…live in reverent fear during the time of your exile… you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors.” In this quote the author encourages Christians to suffer in the name of God within their current lifetime. This would be ideal over having to face the consequences of one’s sins in his eternal after life. The suffering that devout Christians, who adhere to the desires of God, experience is nothing compared to what lies for those who fail to do so.
The author further elaborates upon suffering’s role in Christian life in verse 1 Peter 2:19-25. It quotes, “if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” This quote directly calls for Christians to openly accept their fate of suffering and persecution. Although they are to suffer the cruelties of those who question their faith, they are comforted with the understanding that God will keep them in his favor. They, as believers of the Christian faith, are fulfilling their mission of spreading God’s words and teachings. The suffering that they endure on earth, despite their faultlessness, is going to pay off in the long run.
1 Peter 3:18 statement, “For Christ also suffered… He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit…”, encapsulates the full benefits that follow suffering selflessly. Having to forgive others regardless of the circumstances and “turning the other cheek” is one of Jesus’ key teachings. Enduring this struggle with patience and virtue is a result of God’s unconditional love towards Christians. Since they as Christians are forgiven for their sins, through his sending of his one and only son Jesus Christ, they too must forgive their enemies’ wrongdoings. They are expected to do so with unquestioned devotion to their God and with a sense of pride. Through suffering, members of the Christian faith are able to gain God’s approval and compensate for their own faults.
A direct contradiction of this loyalty is seen in the Letters of Pliny the Younger and the Emperor Trajan. Christians throughout Bithynia, a province of Rome, were turned in through anonymous libels to be persecuted for their beliefs. Many Christians who were convicted denied their association with Christianity for the sake of survival. These individuals had to prove their loyalty to the Roman emperor. They were even made to go to the extent of cursing Christ to prove their disloyalty to Christian faith. The teachings of 1 Peter strongly discourage against such cowardliness. This particular section of scripture would encourage Christians to confess of their devotion to Christ and bravely face the consequences. Martyrdom is seen as an act of bravery and a very strong validation of one’s faith. Such individuals are looked highly upon by the church. Christians look up to these martyrs as spiritual role models that they should base their faith lives after. Such examples of devotion further elaborate upon the ideas expressed in 1 Peter and display a much more intense adhering to its teachings and overall message.
All in all, it is clear that suffering plays a key role in the Christian faith. Although the concept of suffering is typically unpleasant, the ultimate goal of a happy after life and the hopes of reaping the benefits of one’s struggles is highly enticing. Through this expectation of a life full of struggle and suffering, early Christians were able to live with a much more optimistic perspective on life. Misfortunes and catastrophes were justified with the belief that they were some of God’s many trials. Through their overcoming of these trials, believers were seen as gaining more of God’s favor and becoming stronger in their faith.