Paul discloses a profound secret to the saints in Rome when he asserts, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom 5:4-5)
There have been times when I have read this and thought; really? I am the first to admit that I am like an averse little kid when these seasons of suffering occur. I don’t like it the least. An inevitable question is why do I react in this fashion? I believe it is because those sufferings reveal something about my faith, notably the fact that sometimes I resemble that wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. In other words I am not completely convinced that God is in full control and that He is love and love only. Moreover, I am not totally persuaded that everything that befalls me is His perfect plan for me in any circumstance.
I assume this was what Peter had to learn when he was sifted and as a consequence denied Jesus three times. After the revelation where he saw that Jesus was the Messiah he must have thought that now he was the initiated one and hence knew everything. His testimony from that moment onwards must have been that God is love. Peter was convinced that he loved Him back and on account of that not so small fact would never ever deny Him. However, there must have been a slight doubt in his mind regarding those things he took for granted. The only way Peter could become aware of his delusion was through testing.
Now we have come to the core of the matter. Our reason to rejoice is that God’s prime concern is to make us safe in His love. A most fascinating evolvement or perhaps it is more correct to say fascinating unveiling of our new heart takes place when we become settled in His love. Unimpeded by doubts regarding our Father’s character our new heart begins to produce what Paul calls character. This is a recognition of who we really are, that His love is poured into our hearts and that that is the eternal source from which our life flows.
Even though we have received a new heart it seems like it needs reassurance and love in order to blossom and mature. In a matter of speaking it is softened when we understand that God is love and that He is for us. I find that this law is operative in me: The more I recognize God’s love towards me the more loving and understanding I am towards others. This is definitely a fascinating aspect of the new life. It displays my humanity and that I am created for meaningful relations shrouded in love.
Most importantly, though, is the fact that love is the most significant characteristic of the Triune relationship of which we now are invited to be partakers. Hence, we are trained in love. We are not responsible to become more loving. God is the one who through our different experiences in this life see to that our new life is manifested in love. Norman Grubb said, “I am not a maintaining self. I am a maintained self.” God is my keeper and maintainer!
From this perspective we realize that those periods of testing also involve a subversion or erosion of our self-sufficient-self. A process which is absolutely necessary if we are to grasp the enormity of God’s grace and how comprehensive Jesus’ finished work is. After the incident outside the high priest’s courtyard Peter’s self confidence was in disarray. He must have doubted God’s love since He allowed this calamity to come his way. Perhaps worst of all, Peter must have felt his nothingness as a devouring darkness.
Into this vacuum God’s light and love flows unobstructed and fills Peter with a new understanding of who he is in an eternal perspective. It is the kind of emptiness the Genesis account alludes to into which God commanded: Let there be light!