It’s a turbulent time in the world right now. The news always seems to be negative (or negatively spun) such as, “We’re going to have more rain,;” or there’s all the news about Ebola, or the op-eds about how you need to stop being stupid and worrying about Ebola; there’s news about the city of Houston trying to force Houston pastors into submitting their sermons every time they mention homosexuality or sexual/gender identity; and then, of course, there’s all of the news concerning ISIS/L.
The first two things haven’t been on my mind so much, but the latter two have.
Here’s what’s bugging me: I’ve had a thought for a long time that the hardest place (or one of the hardest places) in the world to be a Christian is in the United States. Mostly because we lead a life of freedom and relatively extreme comfort. We get to choose a church in our own city instead of having to travel. That’s a convenience and a gift but at the same time, we may never know the dedication, passion and fervor it takes to track across miles and miles (sometimes trips last hours) to meet with people to talk about the Bible in secret. I think that’s authentic. I think that’s a sign of an unrelenting faith. I think it says a lot when your commitment to the cause of Christ is forced to stand up against the barriers of convenience, comfort, and safety. We’ll never have that challenge here (at least we may not for a while.)
And then, of course, there’s the way we look at suffering in modern-day America. If there’s suffering, it’s the government’s job to put that suffering to an end. If ISIS are persecuting Christians, then by God, the government needs to put an end to that and save the Christians.
If the government tries to enforce laws that tighten up on religious leaders, then we push back and we say, “you can’t take my freedom!” Of course, that’s true, because we still very much have a constitution and a bill of rights that ensure us religious freedom, but here’s where I start to get bothered…
Jesus saw all of this coming.
Jesus isn’t sitting at the right hand of God the Father panicking because our government is losing its grasp on the constitution. Jesus isn’t freaking out because pastors are being asked to submit their sermons. The heinous things that ISIS are doing to Christians (and others) aren’t catching Jesus off guard.
He warned about it.
Read what Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 24:3-14:
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Now, am I here trying to say that it’s the end of the world? Not necessarily. The point is that Jesus foretold that this stuff would come. Christians would be tried and put to death. Christians would be hated. People would forsake the law.
Friends, that doesn’t deter the plan of God. Because, look – after all of what Jesus said would happen, He then says that the gospel of the Kingdom will be proclaimed through the whole world!
That’s a big difference, going from suffering and persecution to worldwide evangelism. The tone shifts significantly, but it shifts within the context of suffering. Evangelism isn’t separate from suffering. I’m of the mind that suffering is part of evangelism.
So we, like the disciples Jesus told this to, shouldn’t be alarmed when we see suffering in the world. Should we be sad? Yes. Should we mourn? To a degree. Should we pray for those suffering? Yes, but I think less for deliverance and more for perseverance. Should we petition the government to protect people from suffering? I’m not so sure.
Ultimately, the hope of the Christian is not in this life. Our hope doesn’t rest on whether or not we suffer. If it did, that’s a weak savior. If it did, that’s a risk-less faith. If it did, we’re in for disappointment.
The hope of the Christian is that Jesus suffered in our place to settle the ultimate problem – the problem of sin. So any and all suffering is not a result of punishment from God. Rather, I believe that suffering gives us a chance to identify with Jesus, in the same way we identify with His death, burial, and resurrection through the sacrament of baptism. It gives us a chance to solidify our faith like nothing else can or will do.
Don’t pray that suffering won’t come. Pray that suffering will be an example to all who see it of the sovereignty of the Savior on which the Christian rests.