I’ve never been able to understand the way in which many people in America think about persecution and martyrdom. I might literally shiver with fear, but the way of thinking about persecution I knew was that of the Apostles when they “went forth from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer shame for the sake of the Name” or that with which the Christian writings from the era of the Roman persecutions seeps: the crown, the victor’s palm, the fulfillment of martyrdom. They counted torture for the sake of Christ a joy. There is a line, descriptive of the whole tone which meets one in their writings and in the accounts of their deaths, in the autobiography of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, about martyrs who watched their brothers die, “consoling themselves with the thought that perhaps they were being kept for greater torments.” Not that I understood all of this all, or even most, of the time. But it was the way Christians thought. I was an abnormal Christian when and because I didn’t think and feel this way, never when or because I did.
This way of thinking was so ingrained in my understanding that it took me a long time to realize that the Christians around me didn’t think this way. People begin to think that I was extraordinary because I was fearless: I knew I was extraordinary because I was so fearful. Someone once said to me that I couldn’t openly preach the Gospel in some places of the world, because if I did, “they would throw me into prison and let me rot there.” Finally, it dawned on me that these people who did not, like me, shiver with fear at the thought of being tortured for Christ were at least as afraid as I was, or thought they were at least as afraid as I was. They did not shiver with fear not because they were less afraid, but because it had never even occurred to them as a possibility that they might be tortured for the Lord!
This, of course, made no sense. The Christian way to think about this was that being tortured for Jesus was an honor of which we could be worthy only though His merits! That’s how Christians thought. That’s how Christians felt. After all, our King was crucified (Does no one know what that means anymore?!). I was an inferior Christian because, too often, I didn’t feel and think this way. I was not a superior Christian because I had seen enough of Him, and enough of the sheer glory of suffering for Him, to be willing to endure and eager to serve Him no matter of the expected suffering, and to know that my fear was silly and wrong and want to be free from it. This was obvious!
So why and how could I possibly be amongst Christians who were more fearful than I, when it was almost impossible, and certainly not the norm, for a Christian to be as fearful as I?
One day a friend suggested to me that, perhaps, many of these Christians were so afraid of torture and wondered so much whether they would deny Christ when pressed because they had never really expected to be tortured or pressed to deny Jesus. Perhaps many people who seemed and spoke as if they were far more afraid than I, were in fact far less afraid, but they did not know it, because they had not yet been tested! It was and remains a wonderful thought.
I might never have thought of the idea, though; I can not begin to imagine what it might be like to be a Christian and expect that one will not be killed or something of that order for Him. However the idea makes sense. American Christians are told, over and over again, in hundreds of different way, that God is neither strong enough to keep them in the midst of suffering nor good enough. It is not told them only in plain and direct ways. It is told them in subtle ways. Others talk, and write blogs, about how we don’t know whether we will be able or willing to confess Jesus under threat of death or, worse, torture (wherever did “consoling themselves with the thought that they were being kept for great torments” go to?), we don’t know what we would do in the circumstances Christians in other parts of the world go through, and these articles are written to convey the idea that if you are an American Christian you cannot possibly know that you will be faithful to Jesus Christ with the help of God because you haven’t “been there.”
This is a lie from the Devil. (If your pastor preaches this from the pulpit he is acting – at any rate while he is saying it – as the mouthpiece of Satan the Deceiver and the Accuser.)
The Devil wants you not to trust God and he wants you to think about yourself, and your fear. He wants you to nourish fear because you haven’t “been there” and so you can’t know.
It’s true that you don’t know what it is like to be threated with death for being a Christian, or tortured for Christ, before it happens to you: you probably won’t exactly know what it’s like after it happens to you either! It’s irrelevant, though. Whether you have or have not been pressed to deny Jesus in one form or another, whether you have or have not been tortured for Him, whether you have or have not denied Him, it depends entirely on His strength and not on yours at all. If these things happen to you, perhaps you will be less afraid afterwards (I don’t necessarily mean the shiver or the racing of the heart; that’s as may be; it might even be worse; but that’s not really important; it’s more of an external circumstance than a state or action of your soul), so much so that you cannot imagine why you were ever afraid in the first place, and this not because you have any increased confidence in your own ability to do or be anything. Rather, you may be unafraid because you have discovered that you are nothing and have no staying power at all within yourself, and so you have given up trying to trust in yourself, to have any confidence in yourself, and you rely completely and entirely on God. If ever you find yourself trying to find some security, some ground of confidence that you will not, or are not likely, to deny Jesus in yourself, your feelings, your history, your anything, perhaps you will immediately find yourself beginning to be afraid again. We fear these things not because we’re weak, but because we’re trying to make ourselves out to be strong. Accept your weakness, tell God you can do nothing, and trust in His grace, and you will not be afraid – His strength is certain.
So, stop serving the Devil and working for the discouragement of Christ’s Bride. Stop preaching that you do not know whether you would deny Christ because you’ve never been asked to do so, and suggesting that nobody can trust in God, and so be unafraid, unless they’ve been threatened or tortured or whatever it is! (Though, if you feel like this is why you don’t know, perhaps you should go somewhere where, when you preach the Gospel and confess Christ, you know that you might suffer for it. Maybe you feel this way because you have failed to obey God or confess Jesus in some circumstance because you were afraid of what might happen to you if you did – perhaps, not even in the direct future, but that if you begin to obey you will obey more and perhaps that more obedience will one day be rewarded with the crown of martyrdom! But never despair. Seek what God wants now and obey Him in it: even if means, or you think it will mean, death by torture! Don’t think that whatever God wants you to do, He wants everyone else to do, and don’t tell others they half-need to do what you know you need to do in order to avoid the issue.)
Stop believing the lie that God will not give you His best. Stop refusing to trust Him. Try to think in a way that makes sense since you are the follower of a Crucified and Risen King. “Present your bodies as living sacrifices, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship, and do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you will be able to prove what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
Don’t wonder what it will be like to be tortured. Remember that your Lord was crucified and that He will be with you always, to the very end. Remember that the Spirit of glory will rest on you. Don’t try to imagine what it will be like; you cannot. Even if you succeed in imagining, more or less correctly, the torture, you will not be able to imagine the gift of God. You’re not much more likely to be able to remember it.
Don’t wonder whether or not you will be able to confess Jesus or to love your torturers. (What I say here applies to numerous other things, which are unattainable except by grace.) If you’re not in that circumstance, you are not in that circumstance, and God gives us our “daily” bread. He does not give us now the grace for a future need: He gives us something better – Himself. You would not be able to confess Jesus or forgive your tortures now because God is not presently asking you to do that. When He asks, He will give you the grace. Don’t wonder whether you will be able to obey Him in a circumstance that is not present to you: obey Him in the circumstance which is present to you, and when you fall, run into His arms and rely on Him.
Don’t try to imagine withstanding torture or anything else that you are not currently asked to do or endure. You cannot imagine the grace of God; you might be able to imagine something like yourself. This will lead either to fear or to false confidence. Both are bad. Both are pride.
Don’t even worry – don’t even think – about whether or not you are afraid or not. Do not fear being afraid. Trust God. Ask Him to show you what you need to see.
If you can’t stop thinking about what it would be like to be tortured for Christ, instead ask God to show you.
Never be afraid to ask God for anything. He always gives us the best. If you ask for something that is not best, God will give you better than you have asked for. Do not be afraid that He will make you miserable! Jesus did not die so that He would not give you perfect happiness.
Copyright 2019 Raina Nightingale