Present Suffering and Future Glory
My friends and I often have discussions in which we try to understand why people ever settled in the great state of Florida. Please do not get me wrong, I have a deep affection for the Sunshine State, largely because I have lived in Florida all of my life. But it is difficult for me to grasp how men and women survived the summers here when people began moving into the state en masse during the 1800s. There was no air-conditioning back then, and the summers here can be brutal, largely because of the humidity. These settlers did not have the benefit of refrigeration either, so maintaining a consistent supply of ice to help cool things down was difficult, to say the least. Somehow, people lived here before all of these wonderful inventions, but I am not sure I could make it without them!
It is so easy to grow attached to all of the creature comforts we have available here in the United States. Those of us who live in hot climates know how readily we grow cranky when we cannot have our air-conditioning. In fact, on those rare occasions when our air-conditioners break down, you might think that the world is about to end when you hear people complaining. How quickly we forget just how good we have it in this country when we are faced with what those in other parts of the world would consider just minor annoyances.
My point is not to criticize, it is just that I am reminded of how much we do not understand suffering whenever I hear complaints about a broken air-conditioner, whether they come from my mouth or others’ mouths. Believers elsewhere do not share this “blissful ignorance.” As I write this article, it has been just over two weeks since three Bible translators in Turkey were brutally murdered by some Islamic radicals. Of course, this was a horrible event, but it is all too common to hear of such things from that part of the world. I know of other Christians in that same country who have not had to endure this extreme kind of persecution; instead, they have to face vandalism, trumped-up charges, and prison sentences. Those believers who live daily under such threats know what it really means to suffer.
Western society has largely escaped these difficulties, at least in the past two hundred years or so. Unfortunately, winds are blowing that indicate the Christians in Europe and elsewhere may soon find themselves in the same boat as those in countries where Christianity is expressly forbidden. Hate speech laws that can be wielded against anyone who defends the normative status of the biblical sexual ethic are already on the books in many European countries and have been used to silence orthodox believers. Here in these United States there are attempts to enact such laws as well. We are not as secure in our land as we might like to think, and I will not be surprised at all if the American church is increasingly harassed and persecuted in the years ahead.
What is especially sad about the situation in the West is that, if persecution comes, it will come in part because our culture is increasingly ignorant of how the church has benefited all people in this part of the world, despite any faults Christians may have. In this respect, our situation is not unlike that of the Israelites who were slaves in Egypt. These ancient believers suffered under a pharaoh who had forgotten all of the wonderful things Joseph did for his country (Ex. 1). Much of our study in Genesis this month will be occupied with those blessings that Joseph and his family gave to the land of the Nile. Faithful to the Lord and to his own calling, Joseph saved Egypt from starvation and in so doing consolidated the pharaoh’s control over that country (Gen. 47).
It would have been easy for Joseph to grow lazy in Egypt, attached inordinately to the lifestyle he had as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Jacob knew this was so, and, as a good and faithful father, he acted to remind Joseph of his true home. As he blessed his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh, he also made his favorite son swear to go back to Canaan, the place of life and blessing (Gen. 47:29–48:22). The only way to prevent Joseph and his brothers from falling in love with Egypt and apostatizing from the covenant when the going got tough was to firmly impress on them the importance of God’s promises.
Joseph’s salvation of Egypt could not guarantee the security of Israel, and we must understand that our blessing on society will not establish the church’s safety either. Unless the Lord intervenes dramatically, our culture will become more hostile to the Word of God and offer us the choice of assimilation or persecution. It will be far easier to embrace society’s way of doing things and keep our many comforts than it will be to live as those called out from the world when the world thinks we are foolish at best and crazy at worst. Without giving into paranoia, we must be ready to lose our homes, livelihoods, family, friends, and reputations if keeping them requires us to deny the Lord Jesus Christ.
Only as we remember our true citizenship in the kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:18–29) will we persevere and avoid apostasy. Like Jacob, let us hold fast to the promises of God that those who endure shall be granted a position and honor far greater than any we can find in the kingdoms of men (Rev. 2:7–13). Let us do all that we can to prevent ourselves and our children from falling in love with the comforts around us. In big ways and small ones, let us lay down our lives for the Savior today.