This excerpt comes from David Powlison’s new book God’s Grace in Your Suffering and is titled The Soul’s Trust in the Sovereign’s Care. The excerpt looks at 1 Peter 4:19 which says “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” and what that means for my suffering.
The classic text whose pastoral application too often misfires into stoicism is 1 Peter 4:19: “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
Even as you read those words, does it sound like the Bible puts the damper on heartache? Is Peter teaching a sanctified version of calm detachment and dutiful self-discipline? Is he saying: “It doesn’t really matter that you’re suffering. God’s in control, so just keep up your quiet time and fulfill your responsibilities”? Does God make the deep waters only waist deep? Does he canalize the rivers of woe, so they flow gently between banks of riprap? Does he sanctify distress by making it unstressful? Does he call you to ignore what’s going on around you in order to get on with being a Christian? Look carefully at how to entrust your soul to a faithful Creator. You’ll never read 1 Peter 4:19 in the same way. What does that entrusting really look like?
First, consider David’s Psalm 28 (paraphrased here). It gives a pithy, passionate example of what it means to entrust your soul to the sovereign God:
To you, Lord, I call.
My Rock, don’t be deaf to me.
If you don’t answer me, I will die.
Hear the voice of my supplications,
my cry for help to you. (28:1–2)
These words are not calm, cool, and collected. David does not mentally rehearse the fact that God is in control in order to quietly press on with unflinching composure. Instead, he pleads candidly and believingly with God. He essentially cries out: “This is big trouble. You must help me. I need you. You are my only hope.” Prayer means asking for something you need and want. Supplication means really asking. Frank supplication is the furthest thing from keeping everything in perspective so you can press on with life as normal. Supplication is not a calming exercise, like deep breathing. Supplication pleads for help from Someone who can help.
The sovereign God does not intend that you maintain the status quo while suffering. Pain disrupts normal. It’s supposed to disrupt normal. It’s supposed to make you feel a need for help. Psalm 28 is not a placid “quiet time.” It’s noisy and needy. When you let life’s troubles get to you, it gets you to the only One who can help. As Psalm 28 unfolds, David specifically names the trouble he’s in, what he’s afraid of, what he wants. His trust in God’s sovereign care moves to glad confidence. Finally, his faith works out into love. He starts interceding on behalf of others who also need to be strengthened, saved, protected, blessed, guided, and carried!
Second, consider how Psalm 10 expresses trust in a faithful God. Your life is being threatened by predatory people who give you good reason for apprehension. You begin to entrust your soul by crying out: “Why do you stand far away from me, O Lord? Where are you? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” That is a plea of faith, not a bitter rant. It’s the opposite of railing at God: “Where were you when I needed you? It’s your fault that I’m suffering, because you could have stopped it.” Both stoics and ranters take a mechanical view of God’s sovereign control, detaching it from his loving purposes. For stoics, God’s control over suffering rationalizes cool detachment. For ranters, it justifies hot accusation.
When you trust in God’s sovereign rule, promises, and purposes, you talk out the implications with him. Instead of ignoring the situation and the feelings of threat, instead of finding a quiet (but unreal) solace, instead of just keeping busy by pressing on with business as usual, instead of ranting, the psalmist even takes time to think carefully about the thought processes of wicked men (10:2–11, 13). His scope of concern reaches beyond his own plight, to all those who are afflicted, unfortunate, innocent, orphaned, oppressed. He thinks through how God’s hand rests differently on evildoers and on sufferers (10:12, 14–18). We might say that the things of earth definitely do not grow strangely dim. Instead, they grow much clearer in the light of his glory and grace! This psalm brings us to a place of resolution and confidence. But trust never anesthetizes the threat. So entrusting to a faithful Creator ends with a plea:
Do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no
That’s not calm, cool, and collected. It’s faith working through love. Finally, Psalms 22:1 and 31:5 were on Jesus’s lips because these psalms were in his heart as, on the cross, he entrusted his soul to God. Hebrews 5:7 refers back to this time as characterized by “loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death.” Jesus hardly ignored his feelings or viewed them as the inconvenient by-products of cognitive processes! The psalms he quoted gave voice to intense affliction. You see what was on Jesus’s mind when he poured out his heart. He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34) because he believed that the sovereign God does not treat lightly “the affliction of the afflicted”; that God won’t shrink back in dismay from our troubles; that God doesn’t turn away and ignore naked need (Ps. 22:24). He does not forsake us. He hears and acts. Other people often do distance themselves from suffering. They minimize it, recoil in distaste, look the other way, or blame the victim. But this God will hear our cry.
Jesus’s final act of trust is expressed in words from Psalm 31:5: “Into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). Taken out of context, those words might sound calm, cool, and collected. But taken in context, they are anything but calm. This is a plea of need from a man fully engaged with both his troubles and his God. The emotions of Psalm 31 express how faith trusts in the midst of danger and anguish. The emotions of faith run the gamut from fear to courage, from sorrow to joy, from hate to love, from neediness to gratitude.
Now, let’s connect this back to 1 Peter 4:19. Peter’s “entrust [your] souls to a faithful Creator” uses the same Greek word as Jesus’s “I commit my spirit.” Peter intentionally calls us to the pattern of Jesus’s anguished faith on the cross.
God’s high, sovereign providence in all things does take the panic out of life. Reasons for despair wash away. But grasp it rightly, and you’ll never be matter-of-fact and coolly detached. God’s purposes are to sanctify you. And his kind of sanctification aims for vibrant engagement with the real and immediate conditions of life, both the good and the bad. The contrasting expressions “All that is within me, joyously bless his name” (cf. Ps. 103:1) and “Hear my anguished cry for help” (cf. Ps. 102:1) both flow from sanctification. Christ fiercely opposes matter-of-fact detachment. It is the opposite of what he is like. God will teach you to experience life the way the Psalms express it.
Content taken from God’s Grace in Your Suffering by David Powlison, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.