May 6, 2016

Suffering Well: Weeping with Those Who Weep

by Mike Riccardi

Many times when we suffer, the first Bible book and Bible character that pops up in our mind is Job. And that makes sense. That’s why the book of Job is in the Bible—to teach us how to actually trust in God’s sovereignty and respond to suffering righteously.

But the suffering that Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, endured at the time of the Babylonian captivity was just as severe. Job’s sufferings were indeed horrifying, yet there’s something to be said for the fact that his sufferings were fairly personal. Jeremiah’s sufferings, on the other hand, were on behalf of an entire nation wickedly brutalized and ripped from its land. On top of that, Jeremiah himself had not followed in the unfaithfulness of his countrymen which brought this judgment upon them. All the while, he acted righteously and proclaimed the word of Yahweh as the sole voice of faithfulness. Certainly his suffering is worth considering, and the way he responds is worth imitating.

Spread out over a few posts, I want to take a look at how Jeremiah responded to the suffering of Judah at the time of the Babylonian exile, in the hope that we can glean some principles or lessons on how we can righteously respond to suffering.

Some of you might be thinking, “But things are actually going pretty well right now. I mean, nobody’s life is perfect and stress-free, but I’m not really going through any serious suffering.” These posts are especially for you. In fact, it’s best to be equipped with a rock solid theology of suffering while not yet in the midst of it, so that when we do go through various trials we will be able to fight the unbiblical attitudes, thoughts, and actions that we are tempted to have in those trying times. The best defense against responding to suffering unrighteously is to prepare to suffer well before that suffering comes.

He Weeps with Those Who Weep

So, what are some ways of thinking, believing, and acting that would indicate that we are suffering well? The first lesson that I’d like to consider today is that Jeremiah identifies with, and suffers alongside, his people.

What is immediately identifiable at the opening of Jeremiah’s lamentations is that he himself laments and mourns over the destruction of his people. He shares in Israel’s pain, by identifying himself with her. He even personifies Israel and speaks for her as if they were interchangeable. Notice, in 1:2 he says, “She weeps bitterly in the night and her tears are on her cheeks…” But then he switches to the first person: “For these things I weep; my eyes run down with water; because far from me is a comforter,” and so on (Lam 1:16, 18, 20–21). Later he identifies himself with Israel by referring to them and himself collectively in the first person plural (Lam 3:40–47). He also speaks as himself and tells of his own tears and trouble (Lam 2:11; 3:48–50), his own affliction and brokenness (Lam 3:1–4), and his own shame and despair (Lam 3:14–18). Though he has spent forty years telling them that this destruction would come unless they repented, he did not celebrate their destruction in spiteful vengeance, as if to say, “I told you so!” Rather, their misery moves him to compassion and to prayer.

In a similar way, this godly compassion and love-for-God’s-people-because-they’re-His ought to cause in us the same sentiment. We are to identify with the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, suffer with them, weep with them (Rom 12:15), and comfort each other out of that genuine compassion.

If One Member Suffers

This principle is carried through into the New Covenant ministry of the Church. 1 Corinthians 12 says that the Church collectively is Christ’s body, and that those who make up the body are its individual members. And so, Paul reasons, if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it (1 Cor 12:27, 26). Because we belong to the Lord, not one of us lives or dies to ourselves (Rom 14:7), for we are united to Him as His body (Rom 6:3–7). And if we are united to Him, we are united to one another (1 Cor 12:12–14).

Jesus Wept

When Lazarus had died, and Jesus had finally arrived at Bethany, Mary was so grieved that she didn’t even leave the house as Jesus was approaching (John 11:20). When she did get up to meet Jesus, those around her thought that she was simply going to weep further at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:31). Then, in her grief, she falls at Jesus’ feet and almost blames Him for her brother’s death. You can almost see her incredulous, tear-filled gaze at Jesus as she says through the sobs, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32). She was heartbroken.

Then the text says, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled” (John 11:33), and then in verse 35: “Jesus wept.” Though the Jews interpreted His weeping as love for Lazarus—which of course had something to do with it—notice that the text says that it was Mary’s weeping in grief that moved Jesus in spirit. Jesus is grieved not only out of compassion for Lazarus (whom, by the way, He knew He would raise from the dead within minutes), but because He identified with the suffering of Mary, who was dealing with the pain of losing her brother.

In the same way, then, friends, if the love of Christ is in us, the compassion of Christ must be in us. This compassion was in Jeremiah for Jerusalem at the time of the exile. And the man who wept with them for 40 years, warning them of the coming judgment that had now taken place—the only man who did not deserve the punishment brought upon Israel—did not stand self-righteously aloof with his arms folded and a smirk on his face, saying, “I bet you wish you would have listened to me!” Nothing could have been further from the truth. Instead, he identified with his people and suffered along with them.

And so should we.

My eyes fail because of tears,
My spirit is greatly troubled;
My heart is poured out on the earth
Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.
– Lamentations 2:11 –

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • elainebitt

    Thank you Mike. I know I fail in demonstrating compassion during other people’s suffering. May the Holy Spirit give me more of that as I repent of not coming along a person who is going through trials. It’s just too easy to focus on my own issues.

  • tovlogos

    Suffering Well — Perfect.
    I have always admired Daniel as much as Jeremiah, especially after reading Daniel 10:2-3:

    “2 In those days, I, Daniel, had been mourning for three entire weeks.
    3 I did not eat any tasty food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth, not did I use any ointment at all until the three weeks were completed.”

    He eventually received a visitation from heaven, which took all his strength away, “…no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength.” Verses 5 and 6 tell us what the “certain man” looked like. Although the men that were with Daniel did not see the vision, “nevertheless, a great dread fell over them, and they ran away to hide themselves.” These men were decent men, but that’s the power of God.

    Then a hand touched Daniel… and he said to him, “O Daniel, man of high esteem..” That’s a beautiful compliment.
    “Then he said to me, Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day you set your heart on understanding…and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response your words.”
    Verse 14 — he came to give Daniel understanding…

    Daniel was praying for his people and himself. He had a beautiful burden.

  • Emma Noble

    Praise the Lord for your willingness to write about what can be such a touchy topic. This series is sure to be a blessing and I am very much looking forward to learning more =)

    I’ve really struggled with suffering well. I spent nearly nine of my pre-teen years being trafficked sexually. And my story pretty much just got even messier from there… with being stalked, harassed, and further sexually assaulted by the traffickers and associated people who should have been put behind bars but were not (which is “okay” because I know that our Lord leave nothing undone, and that includes His justice), which continued until a few years ago when I got married and my sweet husband moved me across the country and helped me to establish a new identity of sorts.

    But the worst part of all that is the suffering that I put myself through, mostly through having an un-biblical attitude, which, of course, bled out into everything else in my life. I struggled with pride: “Haven’t I suffered enough? Why I am I still being stalked all of these years later?” I struggled with idolizing what I referred to as “healing”: “I can’t move forward with my life until I heal from what’s going on, so I better put ALL of my effort into that.” I developed tunnel vision. I was so focused on my suffering that I couldn’t focus on anything outside of that. While I was saved, I had–in my mind–shoved God into the periphery.

    Sadly, no one ever pointed out my sin to me. Sure, I received some shallow sympathy here and there, but that’s entirely different from true compassion. As you pointed out, Mike, compassion is ACTIVE. God’s compassion actually does something other than saying, “Oh, poor you. Wow, that’s really too bad that your life is so messed up. So sorry about that.”

    If there is one thing I could change about how people have responded to hearing about my suffering it’s that they would have pointed out my sin to me–warning me, essentially, as Jeremiah did for Jerusalem… that my profession of faith needed to be showing good fruit in every season of my life, even in seasons of suffering. I think that we need to weep with those who weep in a way that is spiritually productive and doesn’t just end in a pity party that perpetuates bad attitudes.

    Thankfully, the Lord, in His great compassion, did show me my sin. As I continued to read my Bible and cry out to Him, He very clearly showed me that my #1 priority is to glorify Him through fearing Him and obeying His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). So I put my “healing” on the back burner and started to make some serious changes to my life and my attitudes.

    The Lord has certainly been sufficient in all of this. I truly have no room for complaint and almost feel like I should just delete this because I’m afraid that it will sound all whiny, but I really just want to encourage anyone reading this to remember–when you weep with those who weep–ALL that our Lord has done for you… not just to sympathize with you in a Hallmark-card kind of way, but to truly lift you from the miry pit. We MUST do likewise.

    • Jane Hildebrand

      Praise God for His deliverance of you and of your faith in Him, Emma. 🙂

    • Stacia McKeever

      Wow — not whiny at all! Thank you for sharing such a beautiful testimony to the power of God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. And thank you for sharing practical ways to compassionately exhort others.

    • Emma Noble

      Thanks for your kind words, ladies =)

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