Suffering Isn’t Salvific

Preacher: Jason Carson Wilson

Scripture: 1 Peter 2:19-25

Date: April 30, 2023

Audio can be found here:

Peter encourages his readers to endure suffering patiently, even unjustly. He reminds them that Christ suffered unjustly but did not retaliate or seek revenge. Instead, he entrusted himself to God, who judges justly.

Peter emphasizes that Christ’s suffering was not in vain but was for the benefit of others. Through his wounds, we are healed. Peter also reminds his readers that they were like sheep going astray but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls.

This passage speaks to the Christian belief in the redemptive power of Christ’s suffering and death. It also encourages believers to follow Christ’s example of enduring suffering patiently and entrusting themselves to God. While there’s nothing with encouraging people to trust God, compelling them to suffer in silence is more than problematic.

The woman whose lies instigated the torture and premeditated murder of 15-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 died Thursday. Neither Till’s suffering or her eternal suffering is or was salvific. The suffering that his mother and family have endured watching her live her best long life isn’t salvific. Hoping human suffering yields salvation instead of seeking salvation from suffering is a fool’s errand. Only Jesus’ suffering redeemed anyone.

The lynching of Till and those before and after him has brought no redemption—only justification. There’s always a reason unarmed Black people deserve to die, according to various keyboard warriors on Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. Peter’s essential encouragement to turn the other cheek has meant grieving families extending grace too quickly. In other words, swallowing their pain is the Christian thing to do.

Suffering in silence only enables abusers and oppressors to continue their reign of terror. Many enslaved Africans might’ve suffered in relative silence but they learned to multitask. They sang hymns of deliverance that broadcast a roadmap to freedom rather than praising God for being in bondage.

Suffering isn’t salvific.

Fighting your oppression isn’t sacrilegious. Whether in fear or true allegiance to God in their unique way, some enslaved Africans opted to wait for God to smite their tormentors. Meanwhile, Harriet Tubman, among many others, took matters into her own hands.

Free Black Americans plunged into the Jim Crow era suffered in relative silence as statues rose from the ashes of the Confederacy to intimidate them. The threat and reality of becoming strange fruit kept them relatively quiet for years.

Again, while some suffered silently, waiting for God to strike down their oppressors, others plotted, planned, and acted. Parents of the likes of Rev. James Farmer, as memorialized in the film Selma, actively encouraged him not to participate in the civil rights movement. Meanwhile, Bayard Rustin’s grandparents didn’t stand in the way of him living authentically as a Black gay man or fighting injustice. Rustin’s Quaker grandparents, who were NAACP charter members, encouraged and inspired his commitment to creating a better world. They just might’ve held one belief dear.

Suffering isn’t salvific.

Suffering shouldn’t be the gateway to salvation. That’s not the God in which I believe. God is love—not Machiavelli. God accompanies, comforts, and heals. Inflicting suffering to compel compliance and worship isn’t their style. No, suffering isn’t part of God’s plan. Enduring slavery and the ravage of systemic racism isn’t necessary to gain a Heavenly reward.

There’s nothing salvific about 16-year-old Ralph Yarl’s suffering. His near crucifixion has no redeeming factors, except that we can celebrate his recovery at home.

With that said, Peter also invites us not to seek retaliation against our oppressors for suffering. Oppressors are often quick to equate accountability to retaliation. So, people can often victim-blame and play the victim in the same breath. Conservatives breathing life into the cancel culture trope is a perfect example. Holding people accountable for homophobic, racist, and sexist behavior—in the eyes of a certain demographic—is seen as punishment rather than accountability. The irony is so thick that one could cut it with a knife.

Their supposed suffering isn’t salvific.

Lived experience in a conservative evangelical church surrounded by church leaders hellbent on making themselves culture war martyrs first taught me about cancel culture. While Protestant sermons pushed the narrative that LGBTQIA+ people were intrinsically disordered, they were also supposedly doing God work—boycotting commercials and television shows. They were trying to cancel LGBTQIA+ people by any means necessary in Jesus’ name. All the while claiming any pushback was persecution and their suffering was salvific.

Their alleged suffering wasn’t salvific.

During the nearly 40 years since sitting in that sanctuary, many conservative evangelicals now reject suffering as salvific. Instead, inflicting pain and suffering—in the name of Jesus—is now salvific. Targeting and tormenting LGBTQIA+ people, particularly, the trans community, is meant to gain salvation from a God made in their image. Targeting and tormenting people who aren’t straight, white, and Christian is meant to gain salvation from a false prophet from Palm Beach. Other people’s suffering will save them from losing power.

Framing suffering as a spiritual practice is a life from the pit of hell. Cosigning that nonsense only enables oppressors. People in abusive and dangerous situations must make calculated decisions to survive. But they must resist buying into the lie that you deserve to suffer or that it’s God’s plan.

Revisiting the scripture, Peter says trusting God to save you is the ultimate way to honor the Creator. Can’t trusting God to protect you while fighting injustice be seen in the same light?

Plenty of freedom fighters put their faith in the Creator or some higher power as they fought for justice and liberation. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. C.T. Vivian, Prathia Hall, and Mahalia Jackson trusted the Creator. Peter also talks about entrusting yourself to those who judge fairly. Existing while Black in the United States has taught me and a steady diet of various media reminds me certain Americans won’t be afforded people who judge them fairly.

LGBTQIA+ people, women, Black people, and other people of color’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is threatened by people can’t be trusted to legislate fairly. Transgender people’s suffering at the hands of Greg Abbott, Ron DeSantis, and Marjorie Taylor Greene will never be salvific. Thanks to the near crucifixion of choice, women and girls’ suffering isn’t salvific. Continued dehumanization and demoralization of Indigenous Americans now include attempts to destroy the Indian Child Welfare Act. If it’s destroyed, the suffering that follows won’t be salvific.

Turning the other cheek toward injustice isn’t righteous or salvific. However, standing with the children of the God of the oppressed will bring salvation on Earth. Too often, scripture is used to avoid seeking accountability and justice. People seeking accountability are often reminded that God is love. Framing holding someone accountable as hate helps deflect responsibility.

Justice, love, and peace are three sides to one coin. Loving people means wanting them treated justly. When justice exists, peace reigns. Exercising free will yields injustice, but exercising free will can confront and eradicate injustice. Peter’s words shouldn’t be used to abdicate our agency and leave injustice solely in God’s hands. We are called to advocate, clothe, and feed the oppressed in another part of the Good Book through the story of Jesus—God in human form.

As we confront and fight injustice, it’s hard to remember to love one another. That’s difficult when existing as someone who isn’t white straight, and Christian is becoming a codified sin in a nation where church & state lines have become more and more blurred. It’s a nation where transgender people literally hear, Crucify them! Crucify them! In some form daily. Black people remain at risk of becoming strange fruit.

Even so, we still must focus on loving each other. That means trying our hardest to see and affirm each other’s humanity. That means enjoying each other’s company. But love is also expressed through fighting for the rights of others. Love isn’t leaving people to suffer. Love isn’t accepting suffering. Love isn’t outsourcing all advocacy to the Creator. Love is standing in the way of suffering.

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