EDITORIAL: The Silence of God | Dr. Julie Thomas, USA
The blood-curdling sight of a naked woman, beaten and bruised, paraded through the streets of Manipur are at best snippets of the unmitigated persecution of Christians happening around the world. The question raised about such horrors that underline the depth of human depravity and moral corruption is often “Why does God remain silent in the suffering of His children?” Those in the Western world, who are far from the dread of persecution, customarily scrutinise the sovereignty of God and accuse Him of silence. However, God is not silent. Christ expounded that persecution and suffering will come upon His people and exemplified it through His life and death.
The Reality of Persecution
Persecution should not come as a surprise to a Christian. It is promised for His people, and they have suffered greatly throughout history. Hatred towards God and His people takes many forms, including contempt, scoffing, violence, and slaughter. “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Hatred towards the followers of Christ is imminent because they do not belong to the world. Just like Jesus was sent as the lamb of God and handed over to sinners, Christ sends His people out into the world as sheep among the wolves (Mathew 10:16).
The Response to Persecution
Christians are divided when it comes to responding to persecution. Some suggest opposing it through political activism, protests, and boycotts. Others offer a neutral nonresponsive stand against it. However, the Scriptures call for a different approach. “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). Christ does not command His followers to retaliate or remain passive, but to act in love through prayer and blessing. Even in His dying moments, Christ prays for His tormenters by saying “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith, utters the same prayer while being stoned to death. Hence, the proper response to persecution is to stand firm for the truth of the gospel and to intercede for the salvation of those who persecute His followers.
The Result of Persecution
The church has consistently grown more robust and the gospel of Christ advanced further in persecution. Reflecting on the churches in the West, which continue to grow weaker amidst prosperity, a Chinese pastor (who endured two decades of torture in the communist prison for the Gospel) testifies “In China, the church has experienced persecution and is growing stronger. Persecution is much better than prosperity.” Moreover, the promise of blessedness and great reward in heaven is guaranteed for the persecuted. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mathew 5:11-12). If we suffer for Christ in this world, we shall also reign with Him in His Kingdom (2 Timothy 2:12). And for all who share in His sufferings there awaits a glory that shall be revealed at His coming (1 Peter 4:13).
Hope in Persecution
Persecution is not purposeless or meaningless. It is not surprising or strange. Persecution is the will of God. All pain and suffering are ultimately the sovereign determination of God. Therefore, the scriptures say, “Let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19). The Spirit of God who strengthened Christ to endure the cross for the joy that was set before Him will be with His people in their suffering. The same Spirit who was with Christ, as He was paraded naked, beaten, and bruised through the streets of Jerusalem, will be with His people who are persecuted for His sake. The Son of God stands at the right hand of God, taking part in the suffering of His people just as He did when Stephen was being stoned to death. Those who persecute His people are persecuting Him and whoever touches them touches the apple of His eyes. Therefore, as partakers in the sufferings of Christ, filling in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, the Church, let every persecuted person pray “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”