When He suffered, He did not threaten,
but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.”
1 Peter 2:23
Second to the Bible, the most published Christian book in history is one which most Christians today have never heard of. The book is The Pilgrim’s Progress, written in the 1760’s by a poor English preacher named John Bunyan. It is allegorical quest-story about a man’s conversion to faith in Jesus Christ, and his pilgrim journey towards his heavenly home. Like Bunyan, who wrote the story while in prison for preaching, the main character experienced both profound joy and suffering during his journey.
One of the most severe seasons of suffering in the story comes when Christian walks through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (while written in Old English, the allegorical aspect of the book is very straightforward). Bunyan introduces readers to the place with these words,
The valley itself is as dark as pitch; we also saw there the hobgoblins, satyrs, and dragons of the pit; we heard also in that Valley a continual howling and yelling, as of a people under unutterable misery, who there sat bound in affliction and irons; and over that Valley hangs the discouraging clouds of confusion. Death also doth always spread his wings over it. In a word, it is every whit dreadful, being utterly without order.1
Striking in Bunyan’s description is how disorienting and chaotic the Valley seems. Those who have experienced evil, misery, affliction, and the threat of death can all bear witness to the accuracy of Bunyan’s words. Many of us can attest that to the fact that suffering inflicts a confusion that can be paralyzing, lonely, and downright scary.
In the midst of the darkness, Christian is reoriented by doing two things: praying out loud (to drown out the evil sounds around him), and reciting Bible verses (because it was too dark to read his Bible). While they sound a bit cliché and pious at first, these were the desperate acts of a man turning to God for order in the chaos, for light in the darkness, and for hope in the shadow of hell.
Is there a word to describe this gritty, personal trust?
Theologically, it falls under the category of faith. The classic Protestant definition of faith has three aspects: knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia). For instance, a person with true and healthy faith not only understands that Jesus claimed to be the Savior of sinners, but agrees that Jesus actually is the Savior of sinners, and trusts that Jesus is their Savior from their sin. It is that third and most personal aspect of faith that Christian exemplified most in the Valley of the Shadow of Death; he took what he knew to be true, and leaned into it with all of his heart. But somehow, the word “faith” doesn’t seem to do justice to Christian’s bold dependence on God.
In his letter to suffering Christians, Peter uses the word entrusting to describe our approach to God in the midst of confusion and danger. In the New Testament, the language of entrusting is the language of stewardship: the responsibility to care for something belonging to another. In the Gospels, Jesus uses this word in to refer to a master entrusting his servants with his possessions (Matthew 24:14; Luke 12:48; Luke 16:11). In his letters, Paul uses this word to refer to God entrusting us with His words (Romans 3:2; Galatians 2:7; 1 Timothy 6:20). But in his letter, Peter uses the word entrusting to describe how we give God stewardship over our very lives. Yes, God already rules over our lives; but when we entrust ourselves to Him we acknowledge our deep and personal trust in God’s rule.
In 1 Peter 2:23, Peter uses Jesus as our example for entrusting ourselves to God. He says, “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.” In the evil and confusion of suffering, Jesus did not merely believe in His Father; He actively entrusted Himself to His Father. While this inward attitude and trust is invisible at its core, it expressed itself in Jesus’ life in ways similar to Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress – in prayer, and in dependence on God’s Word. These two things are expressed together poignantly in Jesus’ last words, “Into Your hands I commit My spirit (Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:5).”
While the circumstances of our suffering may be different from Jesus’ life, from Bunyan’s life, and even from Christian’s life, we too are called to entrust ourselves into the hands of our Heavenly Father. Our God is a faithful and trustworthy steward, and He will rule our lives with perfect wisdom and goodness. And so as Peter says in his conclusion, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (1 Peter 4:19).”
1John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (Minneapolis: Desiring God, 2014), p. 68.