Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. – 1 Peter 4:16-19
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Massive and unwelcome change seems to trouble the minds of many in these days. Some are experiencing economic setbacks for the first time in their lives. Some look to the future with dread. Meanwhile, for years, Christianity has shied away, or, as we say down home, boogered at the prospect of preaching harshly and condemning transgressions and iniquity. The preferred messages are about how to have a happy marriage and how to be financially blessed by God. We may hear a lot about how much God loves us, which is true. He loves us so much that He put His judgment upon His own Son, making Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.
While that does demonstrate His love and grace in the most compelling way imaginable, it also reveals the condemnation that lies upon human nature. Let us not be deceived nor deceive ourselves: the whole world lies under sentence of death.
Sometimes innocent people suffer and even die in unjust, unfair ways. Little children are gunned down by madmen. Helpless babies are aborted in their mothers’ wombs. People going about their business are attacked and killed or maimed by animalistic thugs. Terrorists blow themselves up to bring death to their enemies in the name of their god. Tornadoes sweep through schools. Hurricanes drown, flood and destroy.
Peter wrote his letter probably a little before the persecution of Christians under Nero, around 64 AD. According to tradition, just a few years later, in 68 AD, Peter died by crucifixion. Shortly after that, Jerusalem was destroyed. God’s people, both Jews and Christians, often suffered greatly in those days. Judgment indeed fell upon the household of God.
Is something like that about to happen again? Americans are sometimes unaware that it is happening in many places. Right around here, I don’t think they will be literally crucifying preachers any time soon. But, yes, there is going to be a purging and cleansing in the Body of Christ. Judgment is going to fall upon America and Europe. The innocent will suffer.
How can God let that happen? The Lord will permit judgment to fall because we, both as the Church and as nations, have failed repeatedly to respond to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. We have ignored and even condoned injustice, violence, ungodliness, and unrighteousness. Our hearts have become hard and calloused. In our arrogance, we seek to merely mitigate judgment while clinging to our wicked ways.
Of course, not all of the bad things that happen are a direct result of immorality, hatred, or indifference. As Peter points out, we may well be attacked, troubled, and mistreated only because we are Christians and do what is right, in which case we should – hard as it may be -- rejoice and be thankful that the Lord has considered us worthy to be persecuted for the sake of Christ. We may also be “collateral damage” when judgment falls, though it may be that our Father will make a difference between the saints and the secular as He did when the land of Goshen was spared the plagues of Egypt.
My prayer continues to be that my own heart would be broken, whatever that takes. I cannot do better on my own. I cannot sensitize myself or make myself to be repulsed and horrified by transgression – either my own or that of others. I can get mad about it easily enough, especially if I am the victim. What I need, though, is a work of God, for Him to create in me a clean heart and a right spirit. It’s my only hope.