“The Righteous Man” vs “the Good Man” – Suffering for Doing What is Right

In the previous post on suffering, concerning Barabbas, there is the idea of the innocent taking on the suffering of another person, particularly the penalty that the other person deserves.  With Job there is the idea of an innocent person suffering because it is the platform upon which God is accomplishing a greater task.  Yet one of the most frustrating types of innocent suffering is when one suffers because he has done what is right.

Servants, submit to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.  For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully.  For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:  “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”;  Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him Who judges righteously;  Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.  [I Peter 2:18-24]

Of course, Jesus is the prime example of not doing anything wrong yet still suffering.  In a very glaring manner, this is brought out when not even the false witnesses could make a false accusation stick [Matthew 26:59-63; Mark 14:56-59].  So then where did the condemnation come from?

Again, as has been identified a number of times in this series on suffering, it is not God’s “fault” – He is not the one “who holds the bloody knife.”  No, the suffering that man brings upon man is the fault of man.  Again, as mentioned previously, there is a certain hypocrisy where we demand that God give us free choice and then criticize Him for allowing bad choices.

In contemplating why the person who has not done wrong is condemned by the world, St Paul has what I have always considered an interesting turn of phrase in Romans 5:7: “Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man – though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die…”  What is the difference between “a righteous man” and “a good man” – and why the reluctance toward the “righteous man”?

There seems to be something about “a righteous man” that just rubs us against the grain.  Perhaps back in school there was the “goody-two-shoes,” the person who actually made everyone else look bad because he was just such an always good and responsible person.  It was not necessarily that he was being obnoxious, in fact, he probably was simply doing and being what the Lord wanted us to do and to be.  And we just could not stand him.

Yet we could not find that much with which to really fault him – not that we did not try to come up with all kinds of reasons why he was a fool and a jerk, that he was just so naïve and innocent – but basically it boiled down to the fact that he was the way we just did not want to be.  He was “too religious,” “too holy,” and what not else, even though the person may not have been “flaunting” his faith as much as we were rejecting it.

And the likelihood is that we made life a hell for that person, often with a giggle and even a crusader’s sense to show just how stupid he really was.  We really were not that far away from the attitude that the Chief Priest and the rest of the leaders had when they condemned Jesus – but, of course, we will never admit it.

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Now he would be one that I might die for, but “goody-two-shoes”?  Naw, it would be a “tragedy” if the Lord were to take him, but then, it’s OK because we’re glad to give him to the Lord, after all, that is where he belongs, especially now that he will not be here with us any more.  It may be crudely put, but often that was the sense of relief which we felt when such a one left our school or was no longer in our circle.  Paul, indeed, understood our human nature when he made the contrast between “a righteous man” and “a good man.”

Again, this is not the fault of God, but rather describes just how much the world is out of balance because of sin.  Our human nature is just too much in rebellion with God to be comfortable with anything that comes close what God wants.  After all, we just know that He wants to spoil all our fun.

How hard it is for the “righteous person,” as he seeks to follow the will of the Lord, knowing that he will not fit in with what the world delights in, and knowing that every time he sticks to the Lord, that it will bring a varying degree of ridicule and even suffering.

St Peter understood this from when he was beaten for doing exactly what the Lord had told him to do [Acts 5:19-42], as he rejoiced to be “counted worthy to suffer shame for [Jesus’] Name” [v 41].  Paul, as well, understood this from his missionary journeys when his life was threatened [for example, Acts 14:5, 19; 16:22-24] simply because he was doing what the Lord had commanded him to do [Acts 13:2-3].  In fact, Jesus indicates that as we approach the end times, the magnitude of that kind of suffering will increase dramatically

All these are the beginning of sorrows.  Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My Name’s sake.  Many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.  Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.  And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.

But he who endures to the end shall be saved.

[Matthew 8:8-13]

The comfort for the “righteous man” is the awareness not only that such suffering was predicted, but that he simply is following in the footsteps, not just of Peter and Paul, but especially of the One Who had walked in this path and had risen from the dead to demonstrate that the final outcome of such faithfulness is eternal life.

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