One of the great themes of Christianity is suffering for doing what is right. But what happens when we suffering for doing what is wrong?
You already know what I mean (or you will shortly). You’ve cheated, stolen, or something worse. Your conscience threatens you, external law threatens you, and, most importantly, broken relationships threaten you.
You suffer. And when you turn to Scripture, all you see is how believers respond to unjust suffering. But your suffering is just, and it crushes, consumes, and kills your soul.
God knows how you feel. And he wrote a book to heal you despite your deserved suffering. It’s called Lamentations. In it, we discover three ways to respond to deserved suffering, the pain of our wrongdoing.
God chastises those whom he loves. As the lamenter says,
My sins have been bound into a yoke;
by his hands they were woven together.
They have been hung on my neck,
and the Lord has sapped my strength.
He has given me into the hands
of those I cannot withstand. (Lam 1:14)
God brought turmoil to Judah, and the writer sees his sins as a yoke. God saps his strength. Sound familiar? This is what sin does. It makes your bones weak.
The only right response to this is lament. It’s not pulling yourself up from your bootstraps. It’s weeping:
This is why I weep
and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute
because the enemy has prevailed. (Lam 1:16)
Weep for your sin and for your pain. Don’t excuse or attempt to bypass it. Take the pain. That’s the start.
Pain is only the start because hope lives. The lamenter says,
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord. (Lam 3:21-26)
Remember God. His compassion never fails, and it never ends. Wait in hope “For no one is cast off by the Lord forever” (Lam 3:31).
God will never fail you. But don’t expect the pain of your sin to disappear immediately (“It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young” [Lam 3:27]). The feeling of pain is what grows you, what makes you into a new person. It shapes you. And yet without hope, it will destroy you.
Hope takes pain and refits it into a solid diamond. It makes the pain the most valuable experience of life.
In hoping in God, return to him. Wait for him in hope so that you can return and be healed. The lamenter writes,
You, Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.
Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?
Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
renew our days as of old
unless you have utterly rejected us
and are angry with us beyond measure. (Lam 5:19–22)
The throne of God endures, even though the anointed one did not protect Israel (Lam 4:20). A human king was not enough. But the Lord reigns, and his throne endures.
And reconciliation with God happens not by our effort but just the opposite: “Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return.” God must reconcile us so that we may return to him.
And he has. The anointed of Judah, Zedekiah, failed to protect Israel. But the hope of glory, the king of kings, came to the world to reconcile us to God. The anointed king, Jesus, reconciled us to God so that “we may return.”
If you’ve accepted the pain of wrongdoing and hoped in God to release you from it, he will restore you to himself. In fact, he has in Christ. So, repent by walking the path of life that protects you from the pain of wrongdoing. Not only that, walking this path restores to you the joy of salvation in the Holy Spirit, given to us in Christ from the Father.
So, accept the pain. Wait in hope. God has acted and will act on your behalf yet again, so that you will be restored, able to live a life of repentance—a life of faith, hope, and love.