Surprised by Suffering [Excerpts]
Gayle Williams was a 34 year-old foreign aid worker serving among the disabled in a country where humanitarian work is both needed and dangerous. Williams was killed as she walked to work, targeted by a militant group because they believed she was spreading Christianity.
Elsewhere, a young medical student at a prestigious university described in detail the hostility he confronts daily as a Christian. He spoke of students and friends who deride the possibility of possessing both faith and intellect, medical professors who actually apologize when the language of design inadvertently slips into lectures on the body, and the isolation that comes from trying to stand in the shadows of this increasingly antagonistic majority.
When confronted by the stories of those who live their faith among people who hate them for it, I am confounded, inspired, saddened, and thankful all at once. The death and murder of Gayle Williams startles those at ease in their faith to reflection. The pervasive opposition in the lives of believing university students awakens even seasoned believers to their own apathy. How courageous is the believer who follows Christ among those who hurl insults and hostility? How treasured is the Bible that must be buried in the backyard for protection? How sacred is the faith of one who is willing to die for it?
For those of us who live in far less hostile environments, news of persecution is foreign, frightening, and difficult to fathom. Their experiences bring the words of the early church to life in a way that many of us have never considered. When the apostle Paul wrote that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ—neither “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword”—he was referring to struggles that were dangerously real to him and the people to whom he was writing. “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; We are always carrying around the death of Jesus in our bodies, so that the life of Jesus may be clearly shown in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians:4:8-10). Peter, too, encouraged believers in their troubling situations. He urged them to stand firm in their convictions regardless of their affliction; he reminded them that discomfort and suffering was a sacred part of following the wounded one. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter:4:12-13).
The apostles’ words do not take away the injustice of brutal murder. But they do assuage the shock of its occurrence. Jesus told his followers to expect persecution; in fact, he said they would be blessed by it.…Perhaps it is stranger when it is not happening.
“Remember the words I spoke to you,” said Jesus to his disciples. “‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John:15:20). And then he was led away like a sheep to the slaughter (Isaiah:53:7).
(Jill Carattini, "Surprised by Suffering," January 16, 2013, http://www.rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/surprised-by-suffering/).