I find it so hard to feel the bible texts about persecution having grown up in the Detroit suburbs, lived in small towns, medium cities, and metropolitan suburbs. To live in America, no matter what the circumstance, is to live better than most of the world. This is not arrogance or false patriotism, it is a financial fact. In fact, to be in the top 1% of the globe financially, you need to have an annual income of $32,400. The median American household income is $59,000, nearly double what it takes to be in the 1%. And not only do we have more money than the rest of the world, we have more help available were we to fall short of that number. In many places around the globe and throughout history, it is not only that they had less but that they had access to less. Even if some were to come into millions of dollars, they would have no access to food to spend it. I have never known want or poverty or hunger. And I know precious few who have.
So when, like today in both the OT and the NT readings we find warnings (promises?) of persecution, I cannot relate. Yet this is a reality for Christians throughout time and around the world. And for them, one of the biggest questions is this: am I suffering because of God’s withdrawal of His blessings like in Lamentations, or am I suffering because of the evil of this world like in Hebrews? This question is hard, important, but very hard to answer. Yesterday we talked about God’s sovereignty, and if God truly is sovereign in the world, then nothing can happen without His knowledge at best, His causation at worst. If our suffering is not part of God’s will, then we have to question God’s sovereignty, which is equally scary.
We have solved this by focusing on our own free will. It is free will that allows us to sin against each other, but it also allows us to love. God cannot revoke the gift of free will without revoking the very core of our identity – in effect annihilating us. So He has to let us go about our sinful ways or risk losing us altogether. Not a very satisfying answer where sovereignty and accusation are at work.
So, can we, like the authors of today’s passages, still praise God in the midst of our suffering? Can we see God’s punishment and still say, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:22-23) Can we face the sinful effects of this world and still proclaim, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded?” (Heb. 10:35)
I don’t know and probably never will. My children probably never will know this either. Will you?