Joy and suffering, the two sides of the Christian coin.
As we celebrate the Easter season and the joy of the Resurrection, we cannot help but note the wrenching irony that at the same time we are hear of the obscene murders of Christians in the Middle East and Africa.
Just days ago Muslim terrorists killed almost 150 students at a university in Kenya, singling out Christian students for execution in particular. This follows the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian workers in Libya, again chosen for martyrdom because of their Christian beliefs.
Persecution and martyrdom is certainly not new to Christianity. Jesus predicted it and underwent it himself. The heart of the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead after a merciless crucifixion 2000 years ago, proving that he was what he claimed to be: the Son of God come to earth to redeem broken humanity from its addiction to sin and depravity.
By willingly undergoing the brutal torture and execution prescribed for the worst criminals—nailed to a cross and hanging there until dead—Christ opened the gates to Eternal Life for all of mankind. So Christian believe, and have believed for 2000 years.
But mysteries abound. One cannot deny that Christianity appears to be in retreat, if not already dead, in many nations. In Europe, the heart of Christianity for so many centuries, the Faith is bleached out by a secular culture that says life has no meaning. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. And indeed Europe is dying.
In the United States most Americans profess a belief in God, but they are tongue tied in the face of an aggressive secular culture dominated by the academic, media, and political elite. Nowadays anyone who dares to speak up for Christian values, especially chastity in and out of marriage, is shouted or sneered into silence. The result is a timid Christianity that is lives in fear of the a domineering culture that believes in total freedom of thought, speech, and faith—so long as you agree with its self-appointed enforcers.
Meanwhile, as Christians in Africa and elsewhere are butchered by the hundreds, we see or hear little of it in the media, eerily reminiscent of the way the butchering of Christians by the Soviet Union was ignored as it spread its tentacles after World War I. To be sure, the killing of Christians today is noted by the media, but its scope and savagery is ignored or downplayed. Political correctness? Someone might be offended?
Oddly, though, on the very continent where these modern day martyrs are dying, Christianity is growing briskly, especially in black Africa, where some of the worst atrocities are being committed. This is puzzling until one recalls these words: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.” They were spoken in the Second Century by the Church Father Tertullian as Rome fed Christians to the lions by hundreds. Despite the persecutions, perhaps because of them, the Church spread all over the known world. Rome fell, the Christian Church has lasted for 2000 years.
Jesus compared his own life and death to a seed that must be planted in the earth and break out of its hard shell before it grows into new life. He died a horrible death, but his death was the seed that blossomed into the hope and glory that is the Christian life well lived. God came to earth to lead his beloved people, made in his image, back into eternal life.
A beautiful story, but note that an integral part of the Christian life is suffering, or as Jesus said, the carrying of the Cross. We comfortable Americans and Europeans don’t like the suffering idea, much preferring our ease and pleasures. But in the end the Cross comes to us whether we like it or not. We get old, we die, as do our loved ones. Even in the prosperous West, the sweet mystery of life is not forever sweet.
And yet…and yet….
Out of the suffering of believers came the amazing spread of Christianity 2000 years ago. In Africa where Christians are tortured and murdered today, the Faith is blossoming.
Leave it to God. He always turns things upside down. Jesus washed the feet of his followers. He was a peasant and a king. Out of evil, God brings good. Christians who willingly embrace the Cross suffer with Christ—joyfully.
Talk about mystery.