Have you heard of the famous marshmallow experiment? In the 1960s, a Stanford professor tested hundreds of children ages 4-5 by sitting them down in a room face-to-face with a marshmallow. The kids could eat one marshmallow right away. Or . . . if they could wait 15 minutes until the professor came back, they would get two marshmallows that he was saving for them in another room. What followed was downright funny to watch and also quite revealing about the kids’ characters. The researchers followed those same kids for over 40 years, and they discovered that the kids who had been willing to wait for more marshmallows were the ones who had more fulfilling and successful lives. In short? Short-term pain. Long-term gain.
But what do marshmallows have to do with our salvation? Well, this:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Did you catch the part where Peter talks about marshmallows? No? I will simplify, using fun and delicious math. Inheritance = Marshmallows. Multiple marshmallows. All the marshmallows! Peter writes, “This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.” Jesus, much like the Stanford professor, has so many marshmallows waiting to be revealed. They are being kept in heaven for us, and unlike Jet-Puffed, they will never spoil or fade (or get rock hard). But right now? Right now life might not be marshmallowy. Right now, as Peter concedes, “Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”
But that’s the key: for a little while. Oh, it might not feel like a little while. But we need to look at the bigger picture. To us as adults, 15 minutes might not seem like very long to wait for a marshmallow, but to a four-year-old? Forever. Our personal suffering might seem like forever to us. But in the grand scheme of God? A blip. Not to minimize anyone’s pain or suffering, but in it and through it we can still rejoice because he assures us that this time of suffering here on earth (read: no marshmallows) won’t compare to the marshmallows that will be revealed in heaven for us.
And so? We rejoice. We are “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” because of what is to come. But wait—how do we know we can rejoice? How can we trust that there are marshmallows waiting for us? Let’s check out another study:
More recently, professors at the University of Rochester decided to replicate the marshmallow experiment, but with an important twist. Before any marshmallows, the researchers split the children into two groups. The first group was exposed to a series of unreliable experiences. For example, the researcher gave a child one small box of crayons and promised to bring an even bigger box (perhaps even one complete with a crayon sharpener and 144 colors). But the researcher never brought that coveted box. Those same children were given one small sticker and promised a better bigger sticker collection if they waited. But the stickers never came. Meanwhile, the second group of kids had very reliable, rewarding experiences. They were promised better crayons and got them. They were told about numerous stickers, and they received them. You can imagine the impact these experiences had on those kids when they then did the marshmallow test. The children in the first group had no reason to trust that the researchers would bring them more marshmallows, and thus they didn’t have hope and they didn’t wait. The kids in the second group trusted in the promises of the researcher, and thus waited longer and suffered better because they had hope.
God is good. He has promised marshmallows. And his promises are always reliable. Over and over again, from prophecy to fulfillment in Scripture, we see God keeping his promises. Abraham. Hezekiah. Joseph. Hannah. David. Isaiah. Elijah. Ruth. Micah. Mary. Joseph. Jesus’ disciples. Promises kept! He delivered the crayons. He came through with boatloads of stickers.
And because we know the character of God, we know that we will not suffer in vain. In fact, we can even rejoice in our suffering and be grateful for what it produces in us. Why?
“Because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3,4).
Hope. Hope in marshmallows. All the marshmallows.