With doom and gloom seeping from strident voices, we American Christians often hear that one day we may be called upon to suffer for our faith. Before you say “we already suffer for our faith when we can’t pray in schools/speak up for our faith in the public square, etc.,” may I remind you of the deeper meaning of the word suffer: to be made to undergo, endure, be subjected to pain, death, punishment, judgment, grief. Yes, many of us have undergone deep wounds of the body or soul. We all know friends or family members who deeply suffer from the pain of horrific disease. Some live with nearly unbearable loneliness. Others, with agonizing suffering, mourn the death of a loved one.
But to suffer—to be subjected to pain, death, pain, punishment—for our Christian belief is largely unknown here in the West. When talking about and praying for the thousands of refugees fleeing from their bombed homes and businesses, from the evil that has stolen family members, a friend commented, “I just can’t imagine how bad it must finally be to risk death on the sea, then walk endless miles while carrying babies, the clothes on your back your only possession. I just can’t imagine.” These words from poet Warsan Shire might forge imagination into reality:
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when hone won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing…
Dr. Craig Barnes writes: When people joined the church during the first three centuries, they were pledging themselves to be part of a persecuted community. They knew that could cost them their lives…they developed baptismal liturgies that were essentially funeral services. (I wonder how small our “new members” classes would be if we included that pledge??)
This commitment marked their lives: Once church members received (this) life they could never lose, it made them fearless to proclaim the gospel boldly… they had already died to the only life persecutors could take from them…it’s impossible to scare people who have already died!
As years go by, I find myself desiring comfort, tempted to ease an ache or pain by an OTC or prescribed pill. Whining that once known energy decreases. Don’t make me wait in line. Why must an appliance wear out so quickly? But I also want my soul unruffled. Don’t prick my personal balloon with thorns of the sick and suffering. Don’t give me books that graphically describe the horrors of war. I prefer sermons that gently, oh so gently, steer me on the right path. I’m not at all excited about those like Isaiah’s, paraphrased here by Eugene Peterson: Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious game… You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. (Isaiah 1:13-17) That kind of sermon might keep me away from church!
I’ve read that when people in one country commit themselves to following Christ, part of their discipleship process includes learning how to jump out of a jail’s second floor window without breaking their legs. We, at another extreme, are uncomfortable if the temperature in the church is too high or low on any given Sunday.
Suffering? Perhaps its time to review what the Apostle Peter said to the early Christians: Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.
If you are insulted because you bear the name of Christ, you will be blessed… it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name!… So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.
How desperately my perspective, attitude and actions need to change: Don’t be surprised…be very glad…wonderful joy…blessed…praise God…keep on doing what is right…trust God…