Persecution and Martyrdom – Where is God?

Persecution and Martyrdom – Where is God?

Q.    I’ve heard about millions of Christians being brutalized especially in Islamic countries. Where is God in this all?

A.   Rom 8:28 teaches that “all things work together for good” for God’s Children. If “for good” means a stable, safe, healthy, happy, and reasonably wealthy middle-class life, then we must conclude that God does not really work for the good of the greater part of the Church Universal. And a look at Paul’s sufferings in 2 Cor 11 would imply that his life could never be seen as a “good” one by today’s pop psychology or quick-fix spirituality books.

Nowhere does Paul, an intelligent man, suggest that God had forgotten to bless him, or that he was hard done by in his often miserable circumstances. So we must reconsider what Paul meant by things working for our good. He was not influenced by Stoic ideas that sought pain in order to develop strength and virtue. Nor did he subscribe to Gnostic ideas that saw the material body as an evil to be destroyed by suffering. Nor yet was Paul a masochist who actively sought and enjoyed pain. All of these point to self-gratification as the ultimate goal of life, and similar to the modern drive for self-satisfaction and glory.

In our pleasure-seeking world we can understand why a generally worldly Church can’t reconcile suffering with God’s love. But our highest good is not a problem-free life; it is to be like the Son. Our focus is not on this brief terrestrial moment, but on a glorious Eternity ever with our Lord. This emerges as Paul suffers gladly for a purpose greater than his own comfort – 2 Cor 4:10-12. His purpose, his vision, is the same as that of his Lord Jesus – to bring God’s life to us by his own sacrifice, and, doing so, to glorify God’s Name. It’s the inevitability of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection being worked out in every believer.

The only way a deaf and blind world can hear and see the Gospel message is by seeing it in our lives – not so much in earthly prosperity, but in our victory and conquest in the face of the direst adversity. Through our resolute commitment to love those who persecute us and to live in nations that torment us, our witness for Christ gains power.

Of course we serve a God Who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He knows and feels every scourge in every life of every believer. But His silence is not the same as His absence. In His silence, He is speaking loudly to the world around us through our pain, suffering, and isolation. We actually participate in Jesus’ vicarious sufferings.

Jesus’ greatest honour and glory to His Father was not when He walked on the water or prayed those long hours; it was when, through Gethsemane’s dark agony, He continued to follow God’s will right to the isolation, darkness and horror of the Cross – and His Father’s silence! Even so, when all around us fails, when we are destroyed and abandoned, our tears, blood, and dead corpses are the greatest worship songs we can ever sing.

The dead body is not the end of the story. The One Who sacrificed His life is also the One Who has been glorified. And God “will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in His presence” – 2 Cor. 4:14. We have no reason to lose heart – 2 Cor. 4:1. We have a glorious hope – Death, Resurrection, Glory, forever with our Lord.

We can only live effectively in this life committed to Christ and His purposes, and with our eyes on our God and His Eternity.

Where is God in all this? He is right here with His people; presenting Himself, His love, His salvation to the world through their lives, words, pain, and deaths. He is in the victory and joy His presence brings them. He is in the hope His promises breed in them. He is in the perfecting work He is accomplishing in each of them as they become His hand reaching out to give His life and healing to a very sick world.

Like Jesus’ agony in the Garden, we have to realise that His calling will cost us our lives too – and give us His.

Phil 2:13 –For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.

Gal 2:20 –I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.