Well, it;s great to have a chance to quickly return to the ‘You asked’ series, and boy this one is tough one because you asked….
“Why does God allow Christians to be tortured and killed for their faith?”
As usual, I’ll give the quick answer and then explain it. Simply put; because the primary concern of the Scriptures (and hence of God) is not this life but the next one. Please notice that this is NOT saying that God takes no interest in our current lives, he does. In fact he takes huge interest in our current lives because it is in our current lives that we are preparing for our eternal life with him.
Let’s have a look at one of the more famous chapters on faith in the scriptures, Hebrews 11. We’ll pick it up after the author has just spent 31 verses tracing the footprints of the great ‘heroes of the faith’ throughout the scriptures.
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions,34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword;whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[e] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins,destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Here’s what I think is fascinating about this passage and why you never see the last bit of it printed on ‘inspirational fridge magnets’ and sprawled all over Facebook. It is telling us that this life is not all there is. in fact this life only really matters because of what is to come.
Let me say that again; this life matters only because of the one to come.
We are, I believe at an enormous disadvantage in our consumerist, stupendously wealthy 21st century Australia to appreciate what this is really saying. We breathe an atmosphere of entitlement, to the point where we are completely shocked and stunned at the thought of random and debilitating loss in any context. It’s easy to believe that life is meant to be easy when we are unrelentingly blessed.
In fact, this question smokes out our view that really ‘good’ ‘dedicated’ people in some way deserve special treatment over everyone else. In this moment, we reveal the sort of cultural atmosphere that has shaped us so much. We reveal ourselves as religious people. People who default to holding God to account for the suffering he allows on the basis of our perceived success at following rules.
But the basic truth of the Gospel, that this question forces us to deal with is essentially this: Relax; it’s a lot worse than you think.
There is no one righteous enough to deserve special treatment. Save for one and one alone. Jesus. That’s a sobering thought because our eyes then turn towards how he was treated….by humanity. Not very nicely is perhaps putting it lightly.
If that is the case though, another question arises: who get’s the treatment from God that Jesus should have received?….The answer is us. But we cannot stop there otherwise we’re back to square one. Some do incidentally stop there and so end up with a non-stop ‘bless me’ theology that essentially turns God into a blessing vending machine. What’s new, we always tend to want it now. Patience have never been ‘inbuilt’ to us but a hard learned thing.
We need to ask one more question to arrive at the point that the writer to Hebrews is making. The question is WHEN did Jesus receive what was rightfully his?
Hebrews 2: 9-11 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.
In other words; After he passed through the veil of death. Moreover verse 11 makes it clear that in this sense, he is the first born or archetype of many brothers and sisters.
I have marvelled at how Christians enduring persecution are a lot better at dealing with its reality that with the many of us who are not. Maybe that is because in their suffering, they have been driven to such depth in their relationship with God that they can almost see, taste and touch the ‘better resurrection’ that the author of Hebrews talks about at the end of chapter 11.
It is a better resurrection because it’s not just life but life with Him.
Have you ever noticed how you can just about deal with anything, when you’re really looking forward to something? What if real life, is not having everything but looking forward to nothing, but being able to loose everything whilst still looking forward to the thing?
One of the most encouraging and amazing promises in the New Testament is that when your faith is in Jesus, even the very worst things seem to push to deeper and closer into the best thing of all….Him.
In other words, there’s no reason to fear anything. We’re set free from the quintessential human suffering of a paralysing fear we keep silent from everyone else.
Maybe that’s a whole different level of suffering.
Maybe the greatest most loving gift God gives us is to allow (not cause) situations where our only hope is to rely completely and totally on him, situations where our only hope is a better resurrection.