Wednesday, March 2, 2011

pain: a moral evaluation

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
1 Peter 3:17

When Peter wrote these words, Christians were in danger of death. He has just advised his readers to respect the emperor (1 Peter 2:13-17), and now addresses the problem of suffering. Why? Because Roman authorities had begun to persecute both Jews and Christians at this point. The fire was not burning at its fullest, but it had started burning. And some Christians were dying at the hands of this persecution. So the "suffering" being talked about here was very real, and very dramatic.

The reason Peter could encourage his readers in the midst of this time was that they were suffering "well". It is good to suffer for doing good. That goes against modern sensibilities where personal satisfaction and pain free living are expected. We have exalted personal rights to such a height that we no longer consider suffering as a noble experience. But we should not cringe when Christians suffer for their faith. We should rejoice that God has counted them worthy, we should denounce their persecution while commending their faith.

There are places where this admonition, and unfortunately, this experience still goes on. Most notably in the muslim world, Christians face severe persecution. Right now there are all kinds of atrocities being committed against good people whose only "crime" is being Christian. This is happening in Iran, in Afghanistan, in Saudi Arabia, and in India and Pakistan... just to name a few hotspots of persecution. We need to be praying for the brothers and sisters who daily face such antagonism.

If the new atheists had their wish fulfillment, we'd see something of the same in the Western world. Driving through idyllic little Lawrence Kansas this winter, I saw a bumper sticker that read, "I wish they still fed Christians to lions". There you go. For no other crime than belief, "foolish" "backward" Christians are hated for faith. It seems that even liberal tolerance can be riddled with hatred.

It would actually not be a "bad" thing if persecution continued to ramp up against Christianity. It thrived and grew and eventually won over its persecutors in Roman times. It took a few hundred years,,, but eventually suffering well became a testimony to persecutors. The same could happen today. I imagine that if it did, initially some of the smiling prosperity theologians would be shut down, but the hardy stock of honest faith that remained would be well served by suffering for doing good... if we could shed our cushy American sensibilities of an easy life. Peter's words remind us that indeed, suffering for doing good is a good thing indeed.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

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