There’s a lot of talk about Christians being persecuted these days.
I’d suggest a couple of moderating thoughts.
First, if you’re talking about in the US, then, no, they’re not being persecuted, relatively speaking. There are some instances of their being harassed, and that’s wrong. I think the well-known case of the Colorado baker is a pretty clear instance of that. But harassment, while condemnable on both ethical and legal grounds, is nothing like the persecution faced by the early church, or by the modern church in many places of the world. I’ve been in some of those places, and when American Christians cry “persecution,” it strikes me as just as inappropriate as calling an ID requirement for voting “voter suppression.”
Second, there’s some biblical wisdom that we can apply profitably to the matter of either harassment or persecution. To begin with the really big picture, God has designed the universe so that in general it rewards wise behavior and punishes foolishness. If you respect physical laws by not putting your hand into a flame or stepping in front of a city bus, you’ll live more comfortably—and probably longer. If you acknowledge the fact that your fellow humans are created in the image of God and therefore worthy of respect, courtesy, and care, you’ll have fewer interpersonal problems. Even in its pre-fallen state, the world may well have carried the potential of causing you pain if you didn’t pay attention. I suspect that if pre-fallen Adam had beat his head against an Edenic tree trunk for a while, he’d have decided not to do that anymore.
And in its post-fallen state, the potential rises exponentially. Now the world is broken. Creation groans (Ro 8.22), giving us earthquakes and tornados and tsunamis and pandemics. And we, as part of the broken world, engage in thinking and behavior that rejects the good God and denies his image in those around us. That kind of mistreatment and perversion of the designed order causes unfathomable pain. As Jesus’ half-brother James noted, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel” (Jam 4.1-2a).
All of this means that when Christians suffer, there are more possible reasons than just “suffering for Jesus.” Christians, individually or corporately, might be suffering because they’ve said or done stupid things, placing themselves under the divinely designed cosmic order, whereby life is tougher if you’re stupid (as John Wayne allegedly said). Or they might be suffering because they’ve engaged in sinful thinking or practices that have social or legal consequences.
I’m not making this up; the Bible actually warns God’s people against this very thing. Perhaps the most concentrated biblical teaching on Christian suffering is 1 Peter, which lays out the fact and causes of suffering and then applies it in the three major institutions of life: the home (1P 3.1-12), the state (1P 2.13-20), and the church (1P 4.7-5.11). As part of that instruction, Peter says,
14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name (1P 4.14-16).
If you’re going to suffer—which is likely, he says—then suffer for a good reason. There’s no spiritual profit in suffering in itself—everybody suffers for one reason or another. So don’t suffer for stupid reasons.
Peter lists four behaviors here. Two of them are the specific sins—crimes, in fact—of murder and theft. The third item is a general term for evildoing. The fourth is a bit of a puzzle, what New Testament scholar Thomas Schreiner calls “one of the most difficult interpretive problems in the New Testament.” Because it’s a rare word, we don’t have much basis from usage for assigning it a meaning. Etymologically it’s “overseeing the affairs of others,” but what that means in a negative context isn’t clear. I’m inclined to read it as “being meddlesome,” “sticking your nose into other people’s business.”
Big sins will bring you trouble. So will little ones. I’d suggest that commenting on every passing social media post, whether or not you have any idea what you’re talking about, will bring you trouble. I’d also suggest that approaching people with a hostile attitude and confrontational speech will bring you trouble. And I’d suggest, finally, that blaming Jesus for your trouble in those cases is just wrong.
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash