The Privilege of Suffering Wrongfully
J. R. Miller
One of the most difficult duties of Christian life, is to endure wrong patiently and sweetly. Yet many people have to learn the lesson. There are none who do not, sometime or other, suffer unjustly. Strength ought to be gentle—but there are strong men who use their strength brutally. There are those possessing power, who exercise it tyrannically. Justice is not a universal quality among men. There are many who are misjudged or misunderstood. There are those who for kindness—receive unkindness. There are those who repay self sacrifice and love—with ingratitude and neglect. There are good men who suffer for their goodness.
Much of our Master's teaching has to do with this experience. One of the Beatitudes tells of the blessedness of the meek, those who endure wrong patiently, without complaining. Another tells of the happiness or blessedness of those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. In another teaching, the Master bids us to turn the other cheek to the one who smites us, to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us. The lesson of the forgiveness of injuries and of all wrongs done to us, is taught over and over again, and to make it still more emphatic and essential, is linked with Divine forgiveness of us, so that we cannot ask God to forgive us without at the same time solemnly pledging ourselves to forgive those who sin against us.
All our Lord's lessons—He lived Himself, illustrating them in His own obedience. We say we want to be like Christ, to live as He lived. When we begin to think what this means we shall find that a large part of Christ's life was the enduring of wrong. He was never welcome in this world. "He came unto His own—and His own received Him not." He was the love of God incarnate, coming to men with mercy and with heavenly gifts—only to be rejected and to have the door shut in His face. The enmity deepened as the days passed, until at the last He was nailed on a cross! Yet we know our Master bore all this wrong and injury. On His trial, under false accusation, He held His peace, answering nothing to the charges made against Him. On the cross His anguish found vent not in imprecations upon His enemies, nor even in outcries of pain—but in a prayer of love, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
There was not a moment in all our Lord's life when there was the slightest bitterness of feeling in His breast. No resentment ever found an instant's lodgment in His heart. His answer to all the unkindness, the enmity, the plotting, the denials, the treason, and to all the cruelty, the brutal accusations, and the terrible wrongs inflicted upon Him—was LOVE. Thus it is, that we should bear all that is unjust, unkind and wrong in the treatment that we receive from others. We are to keep love in our hearts through it all.
A summer tourist writes of a water-spring as sweet as any that ever gushed from the sunny hillsides, which one day he found by the sea, when the tide ebbed away. Then the sea rolled in and poured its bitter floods over the little spring, hiding it out of sight, wrapping it in a shroud of brackish waters. But when the tide ebbed away again, the spring was still pouring up its sweet stream, with no taste of the sea's bitterness in it. Such a spring, should the love in our hearts be. Though floods of unkindness and of wrong pour over us, however cruelly we may be treated by the world, and whatever unkindness or injustice we may have to endure from others—the well of love in our bosom should never retain a trace of the bitterness—but should be always sweet.
The world cannot harm us if we thus live. The things which hurt and scar our lives are resentment, unforgivingness, bitter feeling, and desire for revenge. Men may beat us until all our bones are broken—but if love fails not in our hearts meanwhile, we have come through the experience unharmed, with no marks of injury upon us. One writing of a friend who was dreadfully hurt in a runaway accident, says that the woman will be probably scarred for life, and then goes on to speak of the wondrous patience in her suffering and of the peace of God, that failed not in her heart for a moment. The world may hurt our bodies—but if we suffer as Christ suffered, there will be no trace of scarring or wounding in our inner life.
We may learn form our Master, how to endure wrong so as not to be hurt by it. "When He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously." He did not take the righting of His wrongs into His own hands. He had power and could have summoned legions of angels to fight for Him—but He did not lift a finger in His own defense. When Pilate spoke to Jesus of his power to crucify or release Him, Jesus said, "You would have no power against Me—unless it was given you from above." God could build a wall of granite about us, if He would, so that no enemy can touch us. He could shield us so that no power on earth can do us any hurt. He could deliver us from every enemy. We should remember when we are suffering injury or injustice at the hand of others—that God could have prevented it. He could have held back the hand that it should not touch us. He could have ordered that no harm should be done to us, that we should suffer no injury.
This wrong that you are suffering, whatever it is, is therefore from God, something He permits to come to you. It is not an accident, a lawless occurrence, something which has broken away from the Divine control, something which God could not prevent breaking into your life. In nature, not a drop of water in the wildest waves of the sea ever gets away from the leash of God's control. God reigns everywhere, in things small and great.
The same is as true of events, of men's actions, as it is of matter. God's hand is in all things. Someone oppresses you, deals with you unjustly. God permits it, and this means that a good, a blessing, shall come out of the suffering. It may be a good for you. What you are called to endure may be designed to make you better, holier, richer in life and character, gentler spirited, more patient. It is well for us to think of this when a wrong has been done to us by another. We may leave to God—the matter of the evil committed against us. It is against Him far more than against us—and He will judge in the matter. Our only concern should be to get the lesson or the good there is in it for us.
Or the suffering we have to endure, may be for the sake of others. God permitted the terrible crime against His Son for the good of the world. Human redemption came out of it. When He permits us to suffer for righteousness' sake—we are in a little measure sharing the sufferings of Christ, and out of it all, will come something to make the world better. Paul speaks of being crucified with Christ. When someone has treated us unkindly, wrongfully, it is a comfort to think that in a small way, at least, we are being crucified with Christ and that blessing and enriching will come to the world from our suffering.
We dread suffering in any form. It seems to us something evil which can only work harm. Yet the truth is, that many of God's best blessings and holiest mercies come to us in the garb of pain. We dread especially the suffering which men's wrong or cruelty brings upon us. We resent it. But no other experience brings us so fully into companionship with Christ, for all that He suffered was unjust, and out of His untold sufferings have come all the hopes, joys and blessings of our lives.
When a great building was to be erected, an artist begged to be permitted to make one of the doors. If this could not be granted, he asked that he might make one little panel of one of the doors. Or if this, too, were denied him, he craved that he might, at least, be permitted to hold the brushes for the artist to whom the honor of doing the work should be awarded. If so small a part in a work of earth were esteemed so high a privilege, it is a far higher honor to have even the least share with Christ in His great work of human redemption. Everyone who suffers any wrong patiently and sweetly, in love and trust, is working with Christ in the saving of the world.