What God Doesn’t Promise–A Life Free of Persecution

We’re continuing our series on the lower-case prosperity gospel. This week, we’re exploring “what God doesn’t promise.” I hope this is food for thought, but even more, I hope you’ll join me in the comments as we work this out.

In a remote region of Ethiopia where water is sparse and the conditions are harsh, a beautiful people live. Pastoralists (nomads, some say), they move camel herds through the territory, chasing water for a living. They are believers in a type of folk Islam, devout in their prayers and steeped in their oral traditions. They chew chat into the night, tell of village news, laugh, take a load off.

In the clan is a Christ-follower. He lives quietly, has adopted an underground faith. Survival of the fittest is a reality in this harsh terrain, as is survival of the quiet for a follower of the Way.

There are stories from the territory—the things they do to Christians. One had his wrists and feet bound, was dunked in the river over and over until being finally left for dead. He was baptized into persecution. Others have been gunned down or macheted into bits. Marriages have been arranged between Christ-following women and devout Muslim men, men who force submission to Allah and the back of their hands. And regardless of status, regardless of the size of your herds, any Gospel-bearer is a target.

I heard these stories first hand and received them with a mix of awe, anger, and sadness. A good God could end this persecution. He could whisper a word and reduce the persecutors to melted skin or ash. But instead, he does something different. He fortifies the persecuted.

There is something about this God who paints in opposites, who strengthens the suffering and tolerates the wicked, even allows them to prosper for a time. There is something about a grace that allows enough rope for men to hang both Gospel-bearers and themselves. It’s glorious and heart-breaking. It’s opposite of the way I would govern, were I God.

*****

Believers a life of ease or comfort. And, as a corollary, our lives of ease and comfort are not necessarily a blessing.

I have seen faces of the persecuted church, the way they shine brighter than the stars in the desert sky. Sometimes I wonder whether I’ll ever know a good God the way they do. But then I remember my material ties, my ease of religious practice, the blessings of a career, a church, like-minded friends. Probably, in some ways, I’ll always see only dimly.

That is a grievous thought.

God did not promise a life free of persecution. He’s not your ace-in-the-hole waiting to trump the stone-throwing powers of earth, at least not here and now. Instead he’s something wholly different. He’s the iron in the will, the friend to the suffering. He’s the giver of the kingdom to those who bear the mark of martyr.

And in that, he is a good God.

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4 Responses to What God Doesn’t Promise–A Life Free of Persecution

  1. Jessica Y says:

    Stephen and his death became part of Saul’s testimony. I think of that often.

  2. Tanya Marlow says:

    I think persecution is hard ground for us to tread upon, because we don’t know of it in the Western world, not properly. I sometimes think that we wouod read Revelation and some of the more gory bits of it differently if we lived under horrific persecution – it is a book written to the persecuted church.

    I shiver with respect for those who are baptised into persecution, and the faith of thise whom you mention above, who are tested and come through. But i womder if we sometimes fall into the trap of oversimolifying – that we idealise persecution with a kind of equation of ‘if we were persecuted then we would lose our material blessings but get back spiritual blessings, and a renewed faith with God’, like it’s a quid pro quo.

    I think back to the early church and the persecution under Caesar – some died rather than worship Caesar and we have their stories to inspire us. But some compromised and buckled. Some worshipped Caesar, others signed a piece or paper saying they had done so, even though they hadn’t, as an effort to save their life and salvage wit conscience. After the persecution ended, the church had to deal with the messiness of whether to accept back those who had compromised, at the risk of cheapening the faith of those who had died. This is the slightly sordid, uninspiring, messy side of persecution. I wonder how often we hear of those stories, whether we get the full picture?

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