3 Lessons From the Persecuted Church
This Fall, I have been developing a love for the persecuted church, especially after reading through Nik Ripken's The Insanity of God (which I would highly commend). We don't particularly like to talk about the persecuted church because our culture is a culture where comfort is king. But the persecuted church is the north star for Christian thought; it is ever before us, anchoring our heavenly citizenship to this earthly place. It reminds us that we are not home yet, and there is much work to be done. To know about, to think of, and to pray for the persecuted church is a necessary Christian discipline. When sit under the persecuted church, we are tapping into the Great Tradition, that torrential river of the thundering faith of the Church from all times and all places. The Persecuted Church teaches us, and disciples us in the way of Christ. Here are some of the things I've learned from the Persecuted Church.
- Pastor Matt LaMaster -
In the epic film Inception, a complex relationship between Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Cob (Leonardo DiCaprio) unfolds. Throughout, Ariadne tries to unlock Cob’s past, but throughout the film Cob draws a line and bids Ariadne, “Come no further.” What is this palpable boundary? In a word, shame. In seminary, I took a class on missions which called me to really investigate the sense of shame in child prostitutes. What is shame? These are some of my thoughts.
As those happily agnostic to shame’s more subversive influence, we, Westerners, struggle to define it, and to often ignore its presence.
But we should be careful about ignoring shame, for it is a universal fact. Though some of you will deny it, there is a deep and profound shame in each of us, the sense that all is not right. That downward look of children at having done wrong, that overwhelming need you have to defend yourself, that pain when someone stabs you in the back, these are all instances of shame. Ignoring shame is like ignoring cancer, you can deny its reality, but it will eat you away.
Shame is a flexible. Your shame touches your marriage, your children, your job, your parents, your church. Shame is subtle. You do not ever need to actively think, "I feel so ashamed" to feel shame. Shame is deceptive. We can notice our shame, but think, "It's no big deal." Yet if we would leave it alone, it would dismantle our souls.
Escaping shame is a long journey. Do not expect to be rid of it soon. It is a long, cold, winding and precipitous trail. Escaping seems to be impossible, as it will suck the life into its frigid vacuum.
The story of our first parents is instructive. Upon unbelieving God’s word and eating the forbidden fruit, our progenitors were illuminated to their nakedness (Gen 3:7). Thus, we see shame is at least semi-conscious: eyes are opened; attention is garnished. The first humans are instantly aware that evil is present and that they have entered in. This moment of realization begets shame. Notice, someone does not have to think, "I am ashamed" to feel shame, but merely to feel, "I am not right." Insecurity, hurt, pain, guilt, all shame.
Scripture tells of more: Judah himself enters in when his daughter-in-law Tamar reveals his unrighteousness with an incestuous verdict (Gen 38). While Judah enters in, shame overtakes the daughter of David, Tamar. Tamar sees the shame approaching like a storm on the horizon, and weeps when it has done its damage (2 Sam 13:1-19). Shame comes from both wrong we've done, and wrongs done to us.
Shame realizes all is not right, neither out there nor in here.
Shame is a spiritual “eye-sore.” It is nakedness. Nothing is dignified about it. It is embarrassment and humiliation. Shame needs to covered; it needs to be hidden. Adam and Eve sought to forget it through the use of fig leaves (Gen 3:7). We have become manufacturers of such things. The episode of Tamar embarrasses David’s whole family, but each finds a different “fig leaf.” Amnon banishes his sister, hiding her from her presence behind locked doors (2 Sam 13:18). Tamar hides herself in her brother’s house (13:20). David rages, but through inaction internalizes his anger (13:21). Absalom surges with revenge (13:29). Variegated taxonomies they may be, but they are fig leaves nonetheless. Shame is the desire to disappear.
We have our own fig leaves. We vigorously deny wrong doing. We avoid people attached to painful memories. We focus our mind on the nostalgic. We select that which is worth remembering, and discard the rest. We get angry when it is implied we have done wrong. How dare someone brings to mind our shame?
However, there is a hope.
God hates shame more than we, and goes to great extent to give us a permanent cover. Just as God provided a covering for Adam and Eve (Gen 3:21), he does so for the shame of the world. Christ so despises shame, that he embodied it and put it to death (Heb 12:2). Christ is the Father’s covering for us, laid on by the Holy Spirit. Fixing ourselves on him, we are covered. Rather than the dysfunction of the cosmos, we share in the honor of the Son of God. This is the hope that we need, the way out of shame, the escape from pain.
“Truly God is our glory and the lifter of our heads (Psalm 3:3).”*
*Diane Langberg, Suffering and the Heart of God, 137.
What is it that you are suffering? This world is full of toil and trouble. We live in a world where evil presses us on every side and in a body where sin fights all restraint. We live in a world where terrorists bomb innocents, where earthquakes shake cities, where fire and drought and hurricanes and tornadoes all have their way unchecked. We live in a place and a space where evil is institutionalized, where sin is tolerated, and where hatred is cultivated. We live in a families whose systems are dysfunction, whose relationships are estranged, and whose stability is groundless.
Hatred, rife, gossip, sin, quarreling, licentiousness, untruth, bitterness, murder, coveting, idolatry, greed, gluttony, lust, adultery, abortion, and death.
This is the world East of Eden, the world of the Fall. How are we Christians to light up the world, when it seems that our flickering flames are about to be snuffed out? James tells us in his letter: Be Patient (5:7).
Be patient in the pain.
Be patient in the hurt.
Be patient in the evil.
Wait. Wait for the coming of the Lord. Wait for Christ to come and claim his people as His own. Wait for the one who purchased you by his blood and rose you with him Christ. Wait for the one who will wipe every tear from your eye. Wait for the one who will put all this death to death. Wait like the prophets of old, who endured the sufferings of this world. Wait like Job who sat scraping himself with pottery until his boils popped and oozed with puss. Wait because like them, we know the Lord will end this.
What kind of God would allow his children to suffer such ill?
He is a "very compassionate" God. In James 5:11 Scripture tells us that God is "very compassionate." But the English does not do this justice. This is actually a compound word in the Greek: πολυσπλαγχνος (polusplagknos) taken from the words πολυς (polus) meaning "much" and σπλαγχνος (splagknos). Σπλαγχνος (splagknos) is an interesting word. It's base meaning is what we might call "guts." It is the entrails, the intestines, the digestive system. It is our gut. In the Greek it also came to be used when the normal word for "heart" might not do justice. It came to mean the visceralness of love. It is the kind of love someone feels when they love so bad it hurts. It is empathy, compassion, sympathy, tenderness. It is a love which is taken from the abstract and embodied before you; it is a love you can touch. What that is, God is plentiful in it. We are told that God is "very splagknos". He is very visceral in his love, his compassion, his sympathy and tenderness for you. He loves us so bad it hurts.
We can be patient in the pain, patient in the toil, patient in the trouble because God is "very compassionate." He has not abandoned his people, but he feels for them with an extra share of affection. He is visceral in his love for us, even while we go into the valley of the shadow of death. He feels what we feel, and at the perfect time, he will return to release us from the pangs of death. So be patient.
Southern Heights Christian Church
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Anderson, IN 46013
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