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Persecution and Suffering

Published by Steven Masood - January 29th 2013

Persecution and Suffering                

At a party to celebrate the birthday of his son, my friend Shoukat invited people of all ages to share in the festivities. Shoukat also invited the Imam of the local mosque. Just before cutting the cake, the Imam recited a few verses from the Qur'an to bless the occasion. He said a prayer, asking for the family and for the birthday boy a long and prosperous life.

After the ceremony and the giving of gifts, the men went to the sitting room, chatting on various matters. Our host switched on the TV to see the latest news. The graphic pictures of yet another famine in Africa, a terrible earthquake in a war-torn country of central Asia, and the killing of the innocent protestors in a North African country upset everyone in the room. Shoukat cried in great grief, "Ya Allah, Raham, (Oh God! be merciful). Oh, look at these innocent children! Why does God allow them die such a death?"

Before anybody else could say anything, the Imam responded, "Wickedness has reached its peak in the world, so naturally famine, wars, earthquakes, floods, and other calamities are striking humanity. It is the final warning from Allah so that people may repent and accept his sovereignty." The discussion was then cut short by the call that dinner was ready.

Why do people suffer? The Bible gives many reasons. It may be because of our own faults and sin. "A man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7). People suffer because of the effect of the wrongdoings of others. At times God allows innocent people to suffer, like Job (Qur'an 38:41). The full story is related in the book of Job in the Bible. Often, God allows suffering so that people may learn a lesson (Qur'an: 7:94; Bible: John 9:2-3; Hebrews 12:5-13). Although God is not obliged to state reasons for his sovereign will, He may allow us to learn the cause of some sufferings.

Good and bad, the innocent and the wicked all face suffering. While the unrighteous have no hope or assurance, the righteous hope in God (Qur'an: 4:104; Bible: Revelation 7:15-17). The Bible says that God "will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain..." (Revelation 21:4). Until that time, in this world those who believe in Jesus as their Savior are to follow the guidelines and markers prescribed by Jesus and his apostles.

The Jesus approach as guidance for believers

Believers in Jesus have the following advice from him: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Jesus’ teaching is against the grain of the blame mentality in the world, which always seeks for revenge instead of leaving it to the greater Judge, God our Creator. Jesus said that since his enemies persecuted him, it is natural that those who do not believe in him would persecute his followers (John 15:20).

A Christian’ reaction: The apostolic way

When the Jewish hierarchy, the Sanhedrin, opposed Peter and John’s preaching and healing in the name of Jesus, Jesus’ apostles were still reverent in their reaction, bold in their response, and not afraid of the consequences at the hands of men. Peter courageously said to them:

“Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:8-12).

The opposition insisted that they should not “speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). However, Peter and John replied: “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!  As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

It is important to note that these apostles did not ask God to shower brimstones on their enemies. Instead we are told that their petition was as follows: “Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30).

At another instance when these apostles were flogged for what they were preaching and teaching, their reaction was not the 21st century reaction: to hold seminars on the subject “Why bad things happens to good people.” The Scriptures tell us that the apostles left, “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:41-42).

Peter wrote in one of his letter to believers, “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21).

Suffering for Being a Christian

At present in Europe and America, the opposition is growing towards believers in Jesus. We can incorporate the teachings of Jesus and the lives of the apostles. We can stand for our rights and maintain our responsibilities with a Biblical approach. At the same time, we should not be surprised when at times those in authority, the lawmakers, the law enforcers, and the decision makers, are in cahoots against us. We are advised and counseled through these words:

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:12-19).

Share the Gospel in simplicity

In the face of all the suffering and persecution in the world, we as believers have to remain faithful to the Truth and share it in simple words. In comparison to many worldviews, including one popular today known as post-modernism, we are obliged to share the Christian worldview in simplicity:

First, that God made everything orderly in a purposeful world, including man and woman, who were to act as vicegerent or stewards of his created order.

Second, that because of the fall of man, a bad choice freely made, God’s curse now presides over creation. As a result, man and his progeny are alienated from the Creator, both physically and spiritually.

Third, God initiated man’s redemption in the Garden thus first sending the message and guidance through the prophets, giving the news of the completion of it in the coming and work of Jesus Christ, who fulfills it.

It is now upon people how they may respond. By accepting God’s providence there is assurance of eternity in His fellowship and rejecting it brings eternal destruction.

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