We experience three kinds of suffering in this life.
One, deserved suffering. We sin, and we suffer misery for it. Sin always spawns misery. It’s all sin can do. So, deserved suffering is inevitable: “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). When our sins catch up with us and we feel the pain, in humility, let’s bend our stiff necks and accept it.
Deserved suffering is hard to bear. But our suffering can be even harder:
Two, innocent suffering. We do not sin, we do nothing wrong, but we still suffer. A natural disaster brings innocent suffering. Racial prejudice brings innocent suffering. Abortion brings innocent suffering. “Manasseh shed very much innocent blood” (2 Kings 21:16). We should respond to the innocent sufferings of a natural disaster with whatever help we can provide. And we must courageously oppose the powerful who torment the innocent, as much as we are able.
Innocent suffering is horrible. But our sufferings are even more intense:
Three, righteous suffering. We not only do not sin, but we do what is right, we stand for Jesus and his gospel, and we suffer for it. Why did Cain murder Abel? “Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous” (1 John 3:12). Abel’s intolerable crime was his integrity, which made Cain look bad, and Cain couldn’t stand it. Abel was persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10). His death was among “the righteous blood shed on earth” (Matthew 23:35). This world dishes out righteous suffering to us all: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). It happens even in churches.
Not all of us will experience the innocent suffering of, say, racial injustice. None of us should experience it. We should all oppose it with every fiber of our beings, no matter what the personal cost. If we chicken out and keep our heads down when innocent people are suffering, we offend our Lord and lose our credibility. But it is righteous suffering where all of us who love the Lord, every one of us without a single exception, can gather at the feet of Jesus and weep together with the deepest understanding.
Righteous suffering is a powerfully unifying force in the Body of Christ.
Ray Ortlund pastors in Nashville, TN and blogs at CHRIST IS DEEPER STILL.