Religious persecution is alive and well in our world.
While we see this happening against numerous religions, perhaps the most persecuted group are Christians. Countless believers have been tortured and killed for confessing Jesus as Lord. Even in the Western world where we have the Constitutional right to freedom of religion, we experience subtle forms of persecution. With every passing year, additional pressure is being put on churches and individual believers to abandon or compromise their convictions.
Our response is telling. Some of us feel betrayed by God because things aren’t going well for us. But despite what some Christian preachers teach, the Bible doesn’t promise a comfortable life. Many of are walking around feeling angry, weak, and defeated. Is God failing us, or could it be that we’ve bought into wrong Christian teaching?
If God really loves us, why do we experience persecution?
I can understand where this question comes from. Our diet in the Western world has been pleasure and comfort. When we divorce this privilege from our gratitude, we turn them into demands. So even the subtlest pricks of persecution sting like hornets.
We often connect God’s love with our own comfort. So when we follow God and discover that it actually costs us, we question God’s love and start flirting with the idea that Christianity isn’t “working out” for us.
But the real issue is not a failure on God’s part. The real issue is a theological gap in our understanding of suffering. Consider the following verses:
- Acts 5:41: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [Jesus].”
- Romans 5:3: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.”
- Romans 8:17b-8:18: “We share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
- 2 Corinthians 1:5: “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”
- Philippians 1:29: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him.”
- Philippians 3:10: “I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.”
- 1 Thessalonians 1:6: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”
- 2 Timothy 1:8: “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, His prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.”
These verses are remarkable! What we learn from them is that suffering takes a different perspective in the Bible. As bizarre as this may sound to the Western ear, Christians don’t experience persecution in spite of God’s love. Rather, it is because of God’s love that by suffering we are privileged to share in the life of our glorious Savior who also suffered.
Many persecuted Christians assert that their closest moments with God came during their hardest times in life. You might not like hearing this, but it appears that our spiritual sense of God’s love is heightened when we suffer for Him. It is a grace that God gives us to endure these difficult times. But we often miss this, because we feel entitled to comfort.
To be clear, we should stand up for justice, even when it’s an issue of religious persecution. But we also must learn to expect persecution as a form of grace in our lives as we become more like Jesus.
Let’s take to heart the words of the apostle Peter in his first epistle:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” ~ 1 Peter 4:12-14
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