Let’s talk suffering.
By now I’ll assume you know I don’t give much merit to American Christians who cry persecution here. That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate concerns about religious freedom. By and large, most people of all faith traditions, Christian and otherwise, feel those apprehensions.
Generally speaking, Christians in the US have mistaken a fall from religious dominance for persecution. We can point to noticable shifts in societal perspectives to explain this feeling. A lot of the blame, though, falls at the feet of the church.
We’ve been untrustworthy. We’ve been poor witnesses to the gospel. While preaching forgiveness we brought shame. We masked abuse to protect ourselves and our ministries. With boldness, the church told the rest of the world how wrong it was while ignoring its own faults.
Is it any wonder people outside the faith don’t trust the church?
All that clouds our sense of suffering. Most of our congregations know the feeling of struggle to maintain the status quo, but we do not know suffering for the gospel’s sake.
At times the church has made people suffer. Whether it was the lure of power or the supposed defense of orthodox belief and practice, the church has often been a heavy hitter.
There are many times as well the church, or at least people of God have been the aim of persecution. It still happens. It is still happening around the world today.
As Christians, we need a developed understanding of suffering. The true struggle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms necessitates that we do. Suffering as a result of the gospel requires our willingness to decide what the good news means to us.
1 Peter has in mind those Christians who are suffering. The ones who worship in secret to avoid death from their governments. Those imprisoned for their unwillingness to recant their convictions. Congregations who hear of their sanctuaries closed and burned to the ground.
That’s the suffering 1 Peter anticipates Christians will face. Now, thanfully, not all of us do. That’s why it irks me when we conflate our fall from grace as persecution.
The question remains, are we prepared to face that kind of suffering? How would we respond?
1 Peter 3 lays out a few responses for us. Peter’s point is one I pray we hold close to us. That even in the face of persecution our witness would hold strong. As you face suffering for the sake of the gospel, that the Lord would strengthen your heart and mine, make all that we declare about the goodness of God real enough to believe it with all our heart and all of our life.
And if we do not face such suffering, how will we support our sisters and brothers of faith who are?