How the World Should React When It Sees a Christian Suffer

Trouble? Anxiety? Pain? Disappointment? Suffering?

These are all part of the human experience, and Christians are not immune to them. Though we are sometimes surprised when our lives take turns into the difficult, we really shouldn’t be – after all, Jesus told us it would be like this:

“In this world you will have trouble….” he said (John 16:33), and he was telling the truth. In some ways, this is really what life is about – it’s moving from difficulty to difficulty; in fact, these events are things that mark our lives into segments. They are the dividing points – there was life before the cancer, and after it; life before the job loss, and after it; life before the argument, and after it. And all of these things are painful to varying degrees.

Painful, yes – but also redemptive. Though it’s hard to see and accept in the moment, there is indeed redemptive purpose in the pain. Sometimes the redemptive purpose is in us, as God uses these things to sharpen our hope and refocus our gaze on the things that matter and are eternal. Sometimes the redemptive purpose is through us because these difficulties, when we are faithful in and through them, become powerful evidence of our faith to the world around us.

So what is it that we want the world to see when it sees a Christian suffer?

Many things, but perhaps an illustration might help. Think back to one of the most familiar stories from the Old Testament. It’s a story about faith. About standing against idolatry. It’s about courage. It’s about God’s faithfulness. And it’s also about what we want the world to see when we suffer as Christians.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood before the gigantic golden statue the king of the foreign land had erected in his own honor. The law had been passed; every citizen of the kingdom was required to bow low and pay homage to this statue, and the king the statue represented. This was too far for these Israelites.

Sure, they had lost their home. Yep, they had been stripped of their families and national identity. Absolutely, they were living in the midst of a foreign culture. But they would not bow, and they were ready to face the consequences. In this case, those consequences meant sudden and certain death. In light of the serious threat before them, the king was curious about their resolve, so they were questioned:

“Now if you’re ready, when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, drum, and every kind of music, fall down and worship the statue I made. But if you don’t worship it, you will be immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire—and who is the god who can rescue you from my power?” (Dan. 3:15).

They would not bow, and the king made good on his threat. They were cast into the furnace, but then the unthinkable happened:

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods” (Dan. 3:24-25).

Isn’t this how we want a watching world, a world outside of faith, to respond to difficulties in our lives? If you zoom out a bit, you can see the characteristics:

  • The people. Assumed in this response is that we will be in relationship with people outside of the faith. That people would know us well enough to know when that we are facing some really hard circumstance in life.
  • The fire. And those people out in the world would recognize the deep, deep pain we are in the midst of. They would look at the fire in which we find ourselves and recognize the danger. The heat. The struggle.
  • Something else. At the same time, in the way we are responding in the middle of the fire, that they would see there is “something (someone) else” in the midst of it with us.

We ought to walk through suffering so that a watching world recognizes that there is no good reason why we should have the hope we have. The peace we have. The continued joy we have. Not in a fire like that.

And though they might not yet be able to identify with clarity the reason why, though the One who is with us might seem to be hazy and different, they will nevertheless recognize the presence of the “fourth” – someone that is making all the difference in the fire.

But perhaps, over time, that “fourth” will become all the more clear to them as well. They will come to know that the one who looks like a son of the gods is, in fact, the Son of God.

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