Jani: Hello, everyone. Welcome to He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund and Heidi Howerton. Today, I get to welcome my husband, Ray, back into the studio with me. Thank you, Ray, for coming again.
Ray: Honey, thank you for the invitation. It’s great to be with you. I’m glad I can enjoy this conversation with you and our listeners.
Jani: It’s really fun to have you here.
Ray: Oh it’s fun to be here.
Jani: Well, thanks.
We’re doing another “Ask Jani” episode, we really should call them “Ask Jani + Ray” because I need your wisdom on this. I need your theological background and knowledge and insight.
QUESTION for Today: “How did God get you through times of suffering?”
Here’s a question from a listener: “I have heard you mentioned different times of suffering in your life. Can you talk to us about your theology of suffering? How did God get you and your husband through times of suffering?”
Now Ray, I wonder if I can just toss this to you and ask you to set up for us a theology of suffering?
3 Kinds of Suffering in the Bible
Ray: Okay, honey, there are three kinds of suffering that we find in the Bible.
1. “Deserved” Suffering (sin)
One is—and we all understand this and there’s a lot of tragedy in it but—“deserved” suffering. Suffering we actually deserve. We sin and then we suffer. For example, the Bible says “Be sure your sins will find you out.” Now that’s not a threat. It’s simply describing an inevitability.
Sin promises to turbocharge our pleasure and significance. But in fact, it’s always a lie. The only thing sin can do is spawn misery. It’s misery is not as though the misery we suffer after we’ve sinned is God imposing something on us arbitrarily and unjustly. What’s happening is our sin is simply being what it is and doing what it does, and it bears this bitter fruit of regret, shame, and embarrassment. We wish we could do that moment over and so forth. So sometimes we suffer because we deserve it.
2. “Innocent” Suffering
Second kind of suffering: “innocent” suffering. For example, a natural disaster, or our hurricane hits the coast of Texas, or Louisiana and homes are destroyed. Families are disrupted. People suffer. And they’re just innocent. There’s no accounting for that. Why? Why does the hurricane land where it does on the coast and not 50 miles away? There’s no accounting for that, as you can’t explain it. They don’t deserve it. Their innocent people.
Racial injustice is innocent suffering, they don’t deserve it. The Bible says that there was a evil king in the southern kingdom of Judah named Manasseh and the Bible says he shed much innocent blood in Jerusalem. Those people did not deserve that. But they got body slammed by an unjust man. So that’s the second kind of suffering.
3. “Righteous” Suffering
So first, “deserved” suffering. Secondly, “innocent” suffering. Thirdly, “righteous” suffering.
Ray: This is when we suffer, not only have we not done anything wrong to bring it upon ourselves, we have actually done the right thing. And it’s because we did the right thing that we suffer.
For example, in the book of 1 John 3—well think of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4; and 1 John 3 looks back at that episode right after the Garden of Eden. So this has been going on a long time in human history. And 1 John 3:12 asks, “Why did Cain murder his brother Abel?” And the astonishing answer is this: “Because [Cain’s] own deeds were evil, and his brother’s [deeds] were righteous.” That was Abel’s crime.
Jani: He was righteous.
Ray: He was a righteous man living what we would call a consistent, noble Christian life. And he was, without even realizing it, certainly without intending to be, a kind of reproach. He was an embarrassment to Cain. Abel was all out for Christ, and Cain was not. And Cain was embarrassed and humiliated by this example of his own brother so close to him. And so Cain had one thought in his mind: down with him.
Now that’s righteous suffering. In fact, in Matthew 23, honey, Jesus says, that he speaks of “from the righteous blood of Abel” in the book of Genesis 2 and then he mentions the final prophet who was martyred at the end of the Old Testament. So he’s bookending the whole Old Testament, speaking to the Pharisees, he says, “You guys have been doing this the whole time.”
Ray: So this is not a sidebar in biblical history, righteous suffering is the story. So Jesus himself, in relation to the Pharisees, why did the Pharisees oppose Jesus? Because he was doing the right thing. He stood for the gospel.
The apostles and the Roman Empire? Why did the Roman Empire pound on the apostles? Because they were standing for what was right in a corrupt culture.
And us today, the monolithic consensus that surrounds us that wants sin to feel normal and it wants holiness to appear quaint or even anti-social.
So we have deserved suffering (we all understand that), innocent suffering (we all grieve over that), and righteous suffering, which is part of living as authentic Christians here in this world. Three kinds of suffering.
Jani: Would you say that we, you and I, have experienced of all three?
Ray: Oh, I think this is the drill for all of us, all of our listeners. If we’re following Jesus, then we will become actually more sensitive, more alert to, more aware of the miseries that our sins actually create. And we will be grieved, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). And just because we’re members of the human race we’ll experience innocent suffering. And because we’re following Jesus, we will experience righteous suffering.
Jani: That’s very helpful, Ray, to put out those three categories.
A CHRISTIAN’S RESPONSE TO EACH KIND OF SUFFERING
Now, let’s move on to how you walk through it when you’re suffering. And we can speak from our own personal experience, but I wonder if we respond differently according to what kind of suffering we’re experiencing.
1. How to respond to “deserved” suffering (as a result of sin)
When I suffer for sin, when I deserve it, it doesn’t bother me as much as righteous suffering. When I’m suffering for doing something right, that’s really hard for me. But when I deserve it, when the Lord is saying, “Jani, you blew it, and this is the consequence,” I usually say, “Okay Lord, just draw me closer to you. Help me to learn from this. Help me not to do it again. I’m so deeply sorry.”
Ray: Yeah, we humble ourselves and we accept, we deeply accept the repercussions of evil that we’ve done and try to, to the extent that we’ve harmed other people, for example, we want to make that up to them. To the extent that we’ve dishonored the Lord, we want to go to him and confess that and admit that and receive His forgiveness and cleansing.
2. How to respond to “innocent” suffering
And of course, with a natural disaster, you just have to walk through it, looking to the Lord day by day, and picking up the pieces of whatever the disaster is.
Ray: Trust him, not rage at him, and also stand in solidarity with other people who are sharing that same innocent suffering.
3. How to respond to “righteous” suffering
Let’s talk for a minute on this final part about righteous suffering. We’ve experienced that as well. Haven’t we, darling?
Ray: All Christians do.
Jani: Yes and I remember during a time of deep suffering in our life, a very wise Christian counselor encouraged us in a way that was very helpful. He said, “I want you to find a promise of God and camp on it.”
Ray: Yes, a verse in Scripture promising God’s wonderful intervention, his support, his restoration. An encouraging word in Scripture. Ask the Lord for that verse and when it leaps off the page, you latch onto it.
Jani: Cling to it. That’s right. Don’t let it go. Write it on index cards and put it in your car, on your refrigerator, on your mirror, under your pillow.
Ray: And we did that.
Jani: We did that. What verse did he give us? 1 Peter 5:10
Ray: 1 Peter 5:10. You’re the one who found it! And you said, “Ray, listen to this verse.” And I said, “Okay, that’s it.”
Jani: Should we say it?
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”1 Peter 5:10
Jani: So when we were in the midst of this, we said, “Lord, we’re suffering, prove yourself true to this promise.” And we trusted that he would. We didn’t know how long it would take but we trusted that he would, and we would say it to each other: “…after we’ve suffered a little while.” We don’t know how long the little while will be. But we’re looking to God, the God of all grace. And indeed, he did fulfill this promise to us, didn’t he, Ray?
Ray: That was years ago. And to this day, when you and I notice some wonderful evidence of grace, evidence of God’s involvement in our life, we turn to each other we go, “1 Peter 5:10!”
Jani: Yes, there he does it again.
Ray: Yeah. There are just hundreds and thousands of 1 Peter 5:10 moments in our life by now.
Jani: Yes, how we thank the Lord.
Ray: Yeah, we do.
Jani: And so we want to encourage you, dear listener, turn to God, turn to his Word. Do not let your suffering embitter you. Do not let it build up a wall between you and the Lord. Make it draw you closer to him, open your Bible and ask Him for His promise to you in this suffering. And he will give it to you.
Ray: He will. He will sustain you. He’s committed to you.
Two Final Tips During Righteous Suffering
You know, two other things quickly, honey, that just occurred to me.
TIP #1: Stay close to trusted friends (a be one for them later on!)
One is another thing, not only a promise in the Bible, got us through, but also staying close to really dear trusted friends.
Jani: Oh, yes, that’s so true.
Ray: And we made this difficulty a sort of a group project. And we had some really loyal friends who just stuck with us when we really had nothing to offer them. But they had so much to offer us. And you know, we sort of move around in life as the years go by. And sometimes they were suffering and we could play that role in their life. And it’s such a privilege. So staying close with trusted friends is so powerful for good.
TIP #2: Pray for a fresh (new), exciting challenge
And then the other thing I knew I needed, Jani, during that time, is I needed a new challenge. I needed a positive new mountain to climb. Something I could believe in and give myself to and God in mercy, not only did he provide the scripture verse, not only did he provide the loyal friends, he also provided a new, fresh, exciting challenge. That in his mercy, well, it actually worked. We got there. We met the challenge.
Jani: Yes, so dear wife who is listening, hear what Ray is saying in that challenge and support your husband help him, believe in him as he’s going through suffering. Go through it together. Let it draw you close. Not put a wedge between you.
Ray: A wife who affirms her husband after he has been body slammed by some affliction or adversity or even injustice—that confident, God-trusting heart in you, the wife toward your husband, you will greatly empower him. He will draw strength from you. And other times you’re going to draw strength from him. But I just, I have experienced, sweetheart in you, what an empowering presence you are in my life. And I’m profoundly grateful.
Jani: Oh, darling, it’s only because the Lord has restored my soul. And that’s what we pray for our listeners as well.
Ray: We do.