We're continuing our series on the lower-case prosperity gospel. This week, we're exploring "what God doesn't promise." I hope this is food for thought, but even more, I hope you'll join me in the comments as we work this out.
In a remote region of Ethiopia where water is sparse and the conditions are harsh, a beautiful people live. Pastoralists (nomads, some say), they move camel herds through the territory, chasing water for a living. They are believers in a type of folk Islam, devout in their prayers and steeped in their oral traditions. They chew chat into the night, tell of village news, laugh, take a load off.
In the clan is a Christ-follower. He lives quietly, has adopted an underground faith. Survival of the fittest is a reality in this harsh terrain, as is survival of the quiet for a follower of the Way.
There are stories from the territory—the things they do to Christians. One had his wrists and feet bound, was dunked in the river over and over until being finally left for dead. He was baptized into persecution. Others have been gunned down or macheted into bits. Marriages have been arranged between Christ-following women and devout Muslim men, men who force submission to Allah and the back of their hands. And regardless of status, regardless of the size of your herds, any Gospel-bearer is a target.
I heard these stories first hand and received them with a mix of awe, anger, and sadness. A good God could end this persecution. He could whisper a word and reduce the persecutors to melted skin or ash. But instead, he does something different. He fortifies the persecuted.
There is something about this God who paints in opposites, who strengthens the suffering and tolerates the wicked, even allows them to prosper for a time. There is something about a grace that allows enough rope for men to hang both Gospel-bearers and themselves. It's glorious and heart-breaking. It's opposite of the way I would govern, were I God.
Believers a life of ease or comfort. And, as a corollary, our lives of ease and comfort are not necessarily a blessing.
I have seen faces of the persecuted church, the way they shine brighter than the stars in the desert sky. Sometimes I wonder whether I’ll ever know a good God the way they do. But then I remember my material ties, my ease of religious practice, the blessings of a career, a church, like-minded friends. Probably, in some ways, I’ll always see only dimly.
That is a grievous thought.
God did not promise a life free of persecution. He's not your ace-in-the-hole waiting to trump the stone-throwing powers of earth, at least not here and now. Instead he's something wholly different. He's the iron in the will, the friend to the suffering. He's the giver of the kingdom to those who bear the mark of martyr.
And in that, he is a good God.