With all the upheaval in the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about persecution. Last week I quoted a verse that has been percolating in my heart. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” II Timothy 3:12 (emphasis mine).
Any persecution I’ve faced has been so slight I can’t use that word. More to the point, I could say I’ve been inconvenienced due to the gospel. Felt uncomfortable. Maybe even ridiculed. But persecution? Not yet.
However, there are many people around the world facing persecution right now — family ostracism, loss of work, eviction from their homeland, imprisonment, torture, even death — because of their beliefs. While most of us can quietly go about our lives (hiding behind our faith being “personal”), they can’t. They suffer for it. In fact, one person is killed every five minutes for their faith.
According to an article dated August 15, 2014 in The Independent (a UK newspaper) by Paul Vallely, professor of public ethics:
“Most people in the West would be surprised by the answer to the question: who are the most persecuted people in the world? According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular group with members in 38 states worldwide, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.
“The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States estimates that 100,000 Christians now die every year, targeted because of their faith – that is 11 every hour. The Pew Research Center says that hostility to religion reached a new high in 2012, when Christians faced some form of discrimination in 139 countries, almost three-quarters of the world’s nations.”
Vallely goes on to quote the former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who told the House of Lords recently that the suffering of Middle East Christians is “one of the crimes against humanity of our time.” Sacks compared it with Jewish pogroms in Europe and said he was “appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked.”
Why hasn’t it evoked protest?
Is the mention of Jesus Christ so politically incorrect these days that people think his followers are “asking for it”? Or do we stubbornly hold to the idea of Christianity as the dominant world force, and just don’t bother to be outraged when “the bully” gets a dose of its own medicine? (If so, wake up! Those days are long gone.)
But doesn’t every human soul have value and dignity, regardless of race or religion? I prefer the poet John Donne’s words: “Any man’s death diminishes me.” I’m not Jewish, but I weep at the past horrors of the Holocaust and present atrocities committed by Hamas.
Many dear souls today – nationals and missionaries throughout the world — remain courageous to the end, holding fast to the Lover of their souls. And many are martyred because of it.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite sections of the Bible, in Hebrews 11. After the writer lists the well-known Hall of Faith saints — people like Abraham, Joseph, and Moses – he describes some anonymous ones:
“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them.”
Not. Worthy. Of. Them.
They are now the great cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 12. They surround us and cheer us on to the finish line. Their example gives us the burst of strength we need to continue to run our race with endurance, fixing our eyes on Jesus.
We are forever indebted to their legacy.