As hinted at in the last blog, persecution is another type of "bad thing" that often happens. We don't see a lot of physical persecution in this country (yet), but it prevails in many other countries. In the Islamic mid-east and in many African countries, such as Nigeria, the persecution of Christians is routine. Many are tortured, raped, murdered, locked in churches and burned, shot, or hacked with machetes.
One doesn't have to be a history expert to know that the first century Christians were persecuted to death. They were cast into the arena and devoured by lions as a public spectacle; they were tied to stakes and burned as torches in Nero's garden; they were crucified; they were beheaded. One can read Foxe's Book of Martyrs and see how extensive has been martyrdom for Christ.
Why would a good God allow his people to suffer this way? Is there something to be gained in that kind of suffering? Yes, there is. After all, Jesus did no wrong, and he suffered and died for us, leaving us that example (1 Peter 2: 21-22). Jesus pronounced blessing upon those who were persecuted for his sake (Matthew 5: 10-12). He warned the disciples often that they would be persecuted (John 15: 20, Luke 21:12, and other places). And the apostle Paul instructs us to "Bless them which persecute you: bless and do not curse them" (Romans 12: 14).
I know this is possible, because I've seen videos of persecuted Christians in Nigeria who, even after having lost family members, still praise God and pray for the murderers who are bent on destroying them. I know it is possible because those martyred in that first century (and centuries following) left behind a testimony, like that of Stephen, who, as he was being stoned, "kneeled down and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord, don't count this sin against them'" (Acts 7: 60).
Would that be easy? Not for our natural self. It could only be our new nature, "Christ in us, the hope of glory," that could pray for and bless a persecutor. But we could do it, in the Spirit's power, with our mind set on what is beyond this life. That is how we can endure any of the "bad things" (other than type 2, which is, as you recall, suffering the consequences of our own poor choices and wrong behavior). "If we suffer with Christ, we will reign with him" (2 Timothy 2: 12a); we are set to become "joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him" (Romans 8: 17).
We need to see beyond the persecution, beyond the "bad thing" that is happening at the moment. We need to realize that there is far more to life than our brief time on earth. When we see the bigger picture, we can see more clearly, just like the rainbow, which we see as an arc but which is seen from heaven (or the sky) as a complete circle.
But why should we have to suffer?
Don't gold and silver have to be heated to a liquid state in order to separate out the impurities? Doesn't a loaf of bread have to be baked in an oven (or bread machine) in order to be tasty? There is heat that must be applied. Peter speaks much of this in his first letter, especially in 1 Peter 1: 6-7. In 1 Peter 5: 10, he says that the "God of all grace, who has called us to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus," is using the suffering to make us complete, to establish and strengthen us, and to settle us in our faith.
Next time, we'll consider another type of bad thing that is common to our human experience, more common than actual religious persecution. But it, too, can work for our good.
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