Why Christians suffer: Divine revelation on a perplexing subject

Why Good Christians Suffer

PART 11

Grantley Morris

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What was the goal of Saul and other religious and political leaders in flogging and imprisoning Christians, and what are the implications?

Obviously, their goal was to silence Christians Ė to stop them Ďspreading liesí. But have you thought through the implications? Surely such drastic measures would have worked if these witnesses were lying and there was nothing obvious, such as money or fame, that was making it worth being tortured.

I am strongly opposed to authorities ever resorting to torture. We know that the temptation to descend into barbarianism is fired by the likelihood of extracting the truth from people. The early Christians sticking to their story despite being flogged or facing martyrdom, plus there being no fleshly benefits, makes them highly credible witnesses.

As much as I recoil from it, the truth is that their suffering has been a significant factor in personally convincing me they were certain they were telling the truth when claiming that Jesus rose from the dead. I confess that it boils down to this: I donít know that I could have mustered the faith to believe in Jesusí resurrection (a belief fundament to salvation Ė 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17) had these early witnesses been divinely protected from torture.

Likewise, the suffering of subsequent generations of Christians adds great credibility to their message and to their claim that what Jesus offers is more important than anything the world offers. On the other hand, the fame, material prosperity and apparently easy life of some Christian leaders significantly detract from this.

Looking at the Apostle Paul further convinces me that suffering adds credibility and empowers oneís message. Many people squirm when reading his anointed writings. Some have real issues with him. Perhaps I would, too, were it not for me being in awe of him because of the stupendous courage, endurance and love for Christ he displayed by what he suffered. I would count it an honor to spend eternity trimming his toenails.

If a spirit/angel appears, how do you know this alien being is not an evil (and hence deceptive) spirit? Supernatural signs would merely prove the spokesperson is supernatural, not that he is trustworthy. Humans, too, can lie, but when they are dying or being tortured they are more likely to be reliable witnesses. Moreover, being human ourselves makes us more confident in detecting human liars. A skeptic might find an angelís claims more believable if it were possible for an angel to be on his death bed or being tortured to extract truth but, even then, how does one know an alien is not faking pain? It turns out that someone would be more believable if he were not an angel or a former human who is now in a protective bubble, but fully human. What a staggering conclusion to having taken the time to think this through! You might even need to reread this paragraph to check the steps that produced this unexpected result.

Why is it so often said that ďthe blood of the martyrs is the seed of the ChurchĒ?

This quote, originating way back in 197 AD (compare John 12:24) is often repeated. This is because history has confirmed over and over not only that suffering adds credibility but it produces stronger Christians.

I am not for a moment suggesting that our Lord wants it to be this way Ė it is to our shame Ė but itís a sad fact of life that without suffering, few, if any, of us would be sufficiently motivated to reach our full spiritual potential.

ďSet your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth,Ē says Colossians 3:2. This is hard to maintain when our lives are so comfortable that things on earth seem attractive. Almost inevitably, the easier and more desirable our earthly lives are, the harder it is for us to wrench our attention away from temporary things and stay focused on spiritual matters. Suffering makes earthly matters less enticing.

When, after a hard life wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites were about to receive increased ease and material prosperity, Moses was compelled to issue this warning:

    Deuteronomy 6:10-12  . . . when the Lord your God brings you into the land . . . to give you, great and goodly cities, which you didnít build, and houses full of all good things, which you didnít fill, and cisterns dug out, which you didnít dig, vineyards and olive trees, which you didnít plant, and you shall eat and be full; then beware lest you forget the Lord . . . (Emphasis mine.)

Even of Jesus, we read:

    Hebrews 5:7-8 He, in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and petitions with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and . . . though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered. (Emphasis mine.)

Consider the writer of the Bibleís longest Psalm. The merest glance at his inspired work shouts that he was an exceptionally devout and spiritual person. Hereís an almost random sampling:

    Psalm 119:10-11,14,18,20,44,97,103 With my whole heart, I have sought you.
    Donít let me wander from your commandments.
    I have hidden your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you. . . .
    I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies,
    as much as in all riches. . . .
    Open my eyes,
    that I may see wondrous things out of your law. . . .
    My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times. . . .
    So I will obey your law continually,
    forever and ever. . . .
    How I love your law!
    It is my meditation all day. . . .
    How sweet are your promises to my taste,
    more than honey to my mouth!

Nevertheless, this amazing man of God confesses that he now loves Godís Word and lives it, but only because an affliction (some form of suffering) brought him to his senses:

    Psalm 119:67, 71, 75 Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now I observe your word. . . . It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes. . . . in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

This strongly suggests that had he continued in a life of ease he might have ended up spiritually damned.

Many of Jesusí parables spotlight how high the stakes are. Consider, for example, the parable of the talents.

The ďwicked and slothful servantĒ (Matthew 25:26) (very many versions of Matthew 25:30 also call him either ďworthlessĒ or ďuselessĒ) was lazy but clean living. He did not descend into an orgy of self-indulgence. He spent not a cent of the money on himself. In this sense, he was highly faithful, and yet look at the appalling consequences of him taking it easy:

    Matthew 25:30 Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.í

So much is at stake that Jesus said:

    Matthew 5:29-30 If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna.
    If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off, and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna.

And the stakes are so high that Paul had to write about a Christian living in sin:

    1 Corinthians 5:5  . . . deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

He also wrote:

    1 Corinthians 11:32 But when we are judged, we are punished by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.

And:

    1 Corinthians 3:12-17 But if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or stubble; each manís work will be revealed. For the Day will declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself will test what sort of work each manís work is. If any manís work remains which he built on it, he will receive a reward. If any manís work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, but as through fire.

    Donít you know that you are a temple of God, and that Godís Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys Godís temple, God will destroy him; for Godís temple is holy, which you are.

The Story So Far

It is vitally important that we remain highly motivated spiritually, and for those having an easy, protected life such motivation is hard to maintain. Ironically, being physically safe can put us in spiritual danger by tempting us to slacken off.

Continued: Part 12

Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2018, 2019. For much more by the same author, see www.net-burst.net   No part of these writings may be copied without citing this entire paragraph.

 

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