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Monday, March 18th 2013

22:01

Blessed are the Persecuted!

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Still ticking
  • IN THE BACKDROP: Castle

So, things are continuing to move on, though slowly. I'm trying to reduce stress as much as possible in my life. Thus, June and I decided that we will not attend ISCA this year. Now I realize that ISCA is not exactly a high-stress occasion in general, but it would be for me this time around. Also, I should mention that, actually for unrelated reasons, the intended world religions trip to Singapore with Veritas Evangelical Seminary has been officially postponed for a year.

I'm not lacking for meaningful things to do when I'm up to doing meaningful things. On Saturday I literally forced myself to go to Cowboy Church in Hartford City, but I'm glad I did. I must say that I felt a sudden rush of energy once I got there and started to set up my equipment, and it lasted until I got home again. I backed up the other performers on the bass and this time did two numbers with my banjo: "Higher and Higher," a Cathedrals song, and "Day is Done," the good old excitement-raiser by Peter, Paul and Mary. Susan Joy D-A helped me with that one, and it was a blast. I also got a totally unexpected compliment on my bass-playing from someone who definitely knows what they're talking about. I won't go into details, but that really lifted my spirits.

I'm continuing to be out of sync with insurance companies, not only my Medicare provider, but also now with my disability insurance. They are saying that I'm responsible for making sure that the doctors send them the update they've requested recently. Well, there's only so much I can do.

   
Luke Bible Study      

Bible Reading: Luke 6:20-23

v. 23b: Take note—your reward is great in heaven, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets. (HCSB)

Our short segment of Luke's version of the beatitudes seems to consist of two parts. The first one continues a general blessing on those who are unhappy in this life promising that those who are hungry now will be filled, and that those who are sad and depressed will be happy. The last time that I addressed this passage, I tried to explain how we should understand those assertions. And yes, obviously I continue to need to learn how to implement them in my life.

 But then Jesus shifts to those who are unhappy for a specific reason, namely because they are associated with him and are being mistreated on that account. To quote v. 22:

    You are blessed when people hate you,
    when they exclude you, insult you,
    and slander your name as evil
    because of the Son of Man.

There is quite a bit of persecution of Christians going on in various parts of the world, Iran and Egypt being particularly prominent. Now, one of our impulses is to somehow try to end that practice through legal and diplomatic channels, and that is good. As I've written on this blog before, I certainly cannot understand the present administration of the United States giving presents to Egypt while that country is suppressing the basic human right to freedom of conscience and religion. However, it seems to me that we should not understand whatever measures our country should take as specifically advancing Christianity per se. The gospel is not brought by the government. People have the right to believe whatever they want to believe, short of some ideology that harms others, and if we were to insist on special pleading for Christians, we would be as guilty of authoritarianism as the non-Christian regimes.

This is not an easy notion for many American Christians to embrace because we are often enamored with the notion of continuity, or, to put it the other way around, we have a hard time accepting the radical discontinuity between us and the world. We keep coming back to the idea that our society can be pictured as a hierarchy of people of virtue, and at the very top of the pyramid are the Christians, who are the nicest people. Then what we need to do, the idea goes on, is to convince the rest of the world that this is the case and ask (or make) them to become virtuous like us. Things don't work that way.

As Christians we believe that all human beings are beset by a serious problem, namely that we are in a state of fallenness, alienated from God, and that this state has consequences on how we interrelate with each other. Furthermore, we believe that only those who are believers in Christ are restored to God, and that whatever righteousness we may exhibit is based on the Word of God, which the Holy Spirits implements in our lives. At least that's what we should believe. Well, there's a lot of "God" in this little summary, and that fact makes it incompatible with any other world view in which human beings are the centers of their universe, with or without imagined deities at their disposal. The result is a fundamental dissonance, and it is likely to go into the direction of Christians being subjected to unfair treatment, to put it mildly. In fact, to state a point that should be more obvious than it is, people who deny that there are divinely revealed moral standards can only live on borrowed values, with which they feel they can dispense if they see doing so to their advantage. (I'm glad many non-Christian people act morally, but they really have no consistent reason for doing so.) Thus, as Jesus said, it is not to be wondered at if we run into mistreatment when we stand up for him, and, of course, I'm not just limiting myself to far-away places now.

Jesus reminds his listeners of the experience of Old Testament prophets, who spoke up against the evil actions of some kings, which earned them various degrees of negative repercussions. Here are some of those men who are mentioned in 2 Chronicles. These are among those whom I call the "minor minor prophets." Most of them only make one single brief appearance, but play important roles.

  • King Asa of Judah (the southern kingdom), who had earlier experienced a miraculous victory and should have known better, caved when the Arameans and Israelites (the northern kingdom) made an alliance against him and bought off the king of Aramea. A man named Hanani stopped by and told Asa that he should have trusted in God rather than in his diplomatic expenditures. Asa blew his top, threw Hanani into jail, and was mean to other people from that point on (2 Chronicles 16:7-10).
  • King Jehoshaphat of Judah accepted the invitation of King Ahab of Israel to go to war together. Ahab had their intentions confirmed by four hundred prophets of Baal, but the prophet of Yahweh, Micaiah son of Imlah, was forced to speak up. He disagreed and even predicted Ahab's death. Ahab was incensed and sent him to prison, while Jehoshaphat, who usually followed the Lord, did not even intervene (2 Chron. 18).
  • The high priest Jehoiadah had saved the life of baby Joash from the murderous Queen Athaliah, who had usurped the throne of Judah. Then, a few years later, Jehoiadah carried out a successful plot against Athaliah, installed Joash on the throne, and mentored him for a long time. When Jehoiadah died at a rather advanced age, Joash gave up on his teachings of righteousness and started to turn Judah away from God. A prophet named Zechariah spoke up against Joash, and Joash arranged it that Zechariah was stoned to death. This prophet was the son of the very Jehoiadah, to whom Joash owed his life and throne (2 Chronicles 24:15-22)
  • With God's help, King Amaziah defeated the Edomites. He then carried home the idols of Edom and hoped to win a victory over the northern kingdom of Israel with their assistance. An unnamed prophet criticized Amaziah's actions. He was barely able to make a getaway when Amaziah threatened to execute him if he kept on speaking, but he got in the last word as he was scooting out (2 Chron. 25:15-16).

Jesus tells us to take courage from these examples, which may seem odd at first. The point is that, if we are in some way persecuted for our faith, we find ourselves in illustrious company, and that we can count on God's reward in heaven, right alongside these faithful men.

Now let me add a couple of clarifications:

  1. This beatitude is not an encouragement to be obnoxious to non-Christians and then consider the negative reactions you generate as persecution.
  2. We have to recognize that sometimes it is the very people who call themselves "Christians" or "the Church" who are offended by our allegiance to Christ and the gospel, and who will, consequently, exclude us and slander our names. Among different reasons, that may be so either because they don't know the true gospel or because they want something different from the gospel. Often such behavior is the case because they have placed a social, political, or ambiguously moral cause ahead of the gospel. As I said above, many people do not recognize the discontinuity between our secular society and being a Christian and, as a result, think that they can create a "Christian society" merely by closing a gap. However, the difference between Christians and others is (or should be recognized as) qualitative. We are new creatures, even if we don't always act like them, and so the intent of making the church fit into the larger society or to make the larger society more like the church is bound to fail.

In sum, a "beatitude" is supposed to be a blessing. However, this particular blessing also implies hardship, and when Jesus tells us to "Rejoice!" that's not always an easy thing to do. But with his supernatural help, on some days we can.

 

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