Yesterday I posted a video documenting some of the persecution of Christians in India and Francis Chan’s response to it. And like anyone who has seen the footage, I can’t stop thinking about it.
This morning, I’m wondering how it’s possible, in the wake of violence like this, for us to continue to hold onto a sort of theology that says that things like this – pain, suffering, financial loss, hardship – are evidence of God’s cursing. That God’s utmost desire for His people is of material prosperity.
I wonder how Peter, crucified upside would have responded to such notions? Or John the Baptist, as his head was served on a platter? Or the countless other martyrs of the faith who are still calling out in the heavens for justice? Where do they fit?
Hebrews 11, among many other places in Scripture, blows this kind of thinking to bits. After chronicling the brief exploits of faithful saints, the writer of Hebrews moves into this rapid fire succession beginning in verse 32:
“And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength after being weak, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead raised to life again…”
So far so good for the prosperity gospel. Great stories of great triumph. But then, seemingly without taking a breath or pause, the writer continues:
“Some men were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection, and others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts, mountains, caves, and holes in the ground.”
There is no dilineation between those who shut the mouths of lions and those who were torn to pieces; those that escaped the edge of the sword and those who were impaled; those that were well fed and those that went hungry. The conclusion is this:
Faith is not the determiner of earthly circumstances.
Because all of these people, the rich and the poor, the delivered and the delivered over, the comfortable and suffering, were “approved through their faith…”