In 1985 Anthony Ray Hinton was charged with the murders of two restaurant managers. It was a set up—he’d been miles away when the crimes happened—but he was found guilty and sentenced to death. At the trial, Ray forgave those who lied about him, adding that he still had joy despite this injustice. “After my death, I’m going to heaven,” he said. “Where are you going?”
Life on death row was hard for Ray. Prison lights flickered whenever the electric chair was used for others, a grim reminder of what lay ahead. Ray passed a lie detector test but the results were ignored, one of many injustices he faced getting his case reheard.
Finally, on Good Friday 2015, Ray’s conviction was overturned by the US Supreme Court. He’d been on death row for nearly thirty years. His life is a testament to the reality of God. Because of his faith in Jesus, Ray had a hope beyond his trials (1 Peter 1:3–5) and experienced supernatural joy in the face of injustice (v. 8). “This joy that I have,” Ray said after his release, “they couldn’t ever take that away in prison.” Such joy proved his faith to be genuine (vv. 7–8).
Death row joy? That’s hard to fabricate. It points us to a God who exists even though He’s unseen and who’s ready to sustain us in our own ordeals.
When reading 1 Peter 1:3–9, we may mistakenly think Peter was telling the recipients of his letter they should rejoice because of their suffering. A closer look at the text, however, indicates that Peter wanted the readers to rejoice that their suffering would result in “praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (v. 7). Later in this letter, Peter states that believers in Jesus shouldn’t be surprised when trials or “fiery ordeal[s]” happen to test them (4:12). Again, he states that suffering for Christ is a reason to be joyful because it means “the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (v. 14). Additionally, those trials are insignificant compared to the joy of the eternal glory they’d experience. Through trials, their faith would be proven genuine (1:7), and genuine faith would result in salvation (v. 9)—an excellent reason to rejoice!