The Christian Dismissal of Another’s Suffering

Editorial Note: This is an ongoing series of daily pieces during Holy Week. Each day The Resurgent and The Erick Erickson Show are co-producing a daily audio devotional tied to my podcast. You can subscribe here. The week will conclude with my annual Good Friday Show on WSB Radio live from Atlanta, GA.

There is a deeply disturbing trend in American Christianity, but it is a reflection of a personal Christian tendency. As more and more American Christians are facing persecution, some Christians dismiss it. “Well, it isn’t as bad as what happened to the Coptic Christians in Egypt,” they might say. Or “they didn’t lose their head” is another common dismissal.

In the United States of America, Christians are losing their jobs because of their faith. They are being hounded out of academic institutions and the entertainment industry. They are being harassed and targeted by gay rights groups. ISIS takes a person’s life, but in America the secular left destroys a person’s life. Both ISIS and the secular left in America, from the gay rights movement to the academy, take a “convert or be destroyed” approach. The dividing line is the sword.

Unfortunately, too many Christians want to appease the world and accommodate it, so they turn a blind eye. Yes, the florist may have lost her business, but she did not lose her life — so no big deal? It is. Persecution comes in degrees and if you have never experienced persecution, you probably are not a Christian. It may have been the insulted mocking. It may have been the denial of a job or being passed over for a promotion. It may be the denial of entry into an academic program.

But we should not dismiss it happening because your are still alive.

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” John 21:20-23 (ESV)

The apostle John was sent into exile several times. He was beaten by authorities. He was jailed. But Peter lost his life, crucified upside down. The tendency of too many Christians in America today is to dismiss John’s persecution because he did not wind up like Peter, when both are wrong.

The other aspect of this, however, is our personal dismissal of our own suffering. Often we decide that our suffering is not as bad as someone else’s so we ignore it. We spend our time in prayer for the friend who is suffering or the person we heard about and fail to pray for ourselves or we pray for ourselves and feel guilty for doing so.

God sets up some things in the world to come about only through prayer. Sometimes he wants you to pray for your suffering. But often we just refuse to pray, dismissing our own suffering as trivial. We deny God’s assistance and refuse to hand over our problems to him thinking he has other suffering to worry about. Denying our own suffering, even when it is small, denies God the ability to comfort us. It is not selfishness to surrender all our burdens to the Lord. It is selfishness to assume God should not be bothered when he has told us to let him carry our burdens.

Just as Christians should not dismiss the suffering of others because it is not of a tragic degree, we should not dismiss our own suffering. Christianity is a religion of persecution and suffering, but we have a Creator who suffered on a cross for us who now will carry those burdens for us if we just ask.

President McKinley On Life And Death

There is only one American still alive who lived while William McKinley was president. Susannah Mushatt Jones was born on July 6, 1899. She will be 117 years old this summer, and she lives in Brooklyn.

Everyone else is dead. That’s a morbid thought, but it’s true: 100 percent of us will end our mortal lives on the earth. Not one of us is likely to see the year 2136 (I borrowed that from my pastor–thank you Pastor Mark).

McKinley was the last governor of Ohio to ascend to the presidency. He won his second term in 1900 and gave his inaugural address on March 4, 1901. Then he took a grand tour of the United States by rail, summering on the west coast, then traveling back through his native Canton, Ohio (just over an hour from the site of the 2016 Republican National Convention) to Buffalo, New York.

On September 6, 1901, McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz, a 28-year-old unemployed anarchist. Two shots from a .32 revolver yielded a fatal wound for McKinley–he almost certainly would have survived with today’s medical advances–and he died of gangrene poisoning 8 days later.

McKinley, a Republican, succeeded Democrat Grover Cleveland, who had served two non-consecutive terms. The issues of the day in the late 1800’s were similar to today. Cuba was under Spanish colonial rule. McKinley ended that with the Spanish-American War (with the populist Teddy Roosevelt’s volunteers charging up San Juan Hill). McKinley annexed the Hawai’ian Islands as a territory.

Cleveland was saddled with the panic of 1893, leading to massive railroad and bank failures, and American industries in distress. The Free Silver movement, farmers, anti-Semites and nativists led a populist wave (many of the anti-Rothschild, blame-the-Jews libels still circulate today) which threw the Democrats out of office. McKinley was for punitive tariffs and protectionist trade policies.

McKinley held forth from his front porch in Canton, tailoring his speeches to whoever showed up. He was the Donald Trump of the late 19th century–the main difference being that McKinley’s remarks were always carefully prepared and vetted, so they couldn’t be used against him. Trump doesn’t seem to care what comes out of his mouth. When McKinley died, his vice president, Teddy Roosevelt, became president–the first real populist to inhabit the White House.

But nobody who was present to witness those events is alive today.

Issues in American politics tend to periodically recycle as the world moves from crisis to crisis. Last night’s bombing of the Brussels airport by Islamic terrorists cut short the lives of 28 (as of this writing) people, and we mourn them. A wave of populism is sweeping America, with Trump and Sanders playing the roles of McKinley and William Jennings Bryan (minus the Christian themes). These things do tend to repeat themselves.

But in 120 years, these events will be dead history, and all of us will be a long faded memory.

This is Holy Week, between Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, as prophesied, on the foal of a donkey, with shouts of “Hosanna!” and waving of palm branches, and His execution. The Jews wanted a political savior to free them from Roman rule. By Good Friday, Jesus would be betrayed by Judas, framed by Caiaphas, abandoned by Pilate, condemned by the crowd shouting “crucify him!” He would be scourged with a whip almost to the point of death, then nailed to a wooden cross to die.

That death two millennia ago would be faded from history, not even a memory, but for one thing. On Sunday, Jesus rose again. Whether you believe in the Resurrection or not, that one life that could not be snuffed out is the nexus of history. It is the seminal event affecting every aspect of life since the day it happened. Nobody on earth is completely immune from its reach. Not one person on earth can hide from the unequaled effect of Jesus’ return from death.

By 2136, we will all be gone, but the events that define Easter will continue to overshadow history until His return.

We don’t know what issues will dominate the political horizon then. We don’t know what world our children and grandchildren will inherit or leave to their successors. But we do know that we can, today, turn to the one event in history that offers redemption, salvation, and security for all eternity.

Politicians will come and go. Whether Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton occupies the White House will not concern us 120 years from now. What happened two millenia ago, and where our hope lies–for none of us is guaranteed one more day–is the only fact that we need to settle today.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:50-54)

History’s Greatest Event

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This coming week starts the anniversary celebrations of the greatest event in history. Two thousand years ago, in a rather routine and inconsequential act for that time, Roman authorities nailed a man to a cross. What happened next is subject to dispute. But since then, most of the western world has believed that three days after his execution, the man named Jesus came back to physical life.

Whether one believes it happened or not, indisputably the first Holy Week fundamentally transformed civilization. Today, several billion people globally will celebrate Holy Week. They believe Jesus died for them, rose again from the dead, stayed on the earth for forty days, then ascended to Heaven “from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead,” as the Apostles’ Creed proclaims.

Christians are prone to look at the number of people executed in the last two thousand years for accepting Christ and think no one would die for a lie. That is simply not true. Nineteen men flew planes into tall buildings, the Pentagon, and a field for a lie. People will die for a lie.

The people who will not die for a lie, however, are the liar’s family and friends. They will call the whole thing a farce. In fact, the historic record shows that the brothers and mother of the man called Jesus tried to stage an intervention. They thought he was nuts. Christians believe Jesus’s mother saw the angel Gabriel who told Mary she would be with child, though she was a virgin.

Despite that, the Gospel of Mark reports that when Jesus’s family heard him preaching “they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’ … And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him.” His own mother who Christians believe had an angel show up to tell her she was carrying a child who would “be called holy — the Son of God” tried to stage an intervention on that very child.

The historic record also notes that at Jesus’s execution his own family would not show up, except for his mother. Mothers are always the last to give up on a child. His brothers, some Christians believe they were really his closest first cousins, were not there. In fact, John, an eyewitness and Jesus’s best friend, wrote that from the cross Jesus told John to take care of Mary. Her family was not there.

A family would not die for the lie of a liar, particularly a liar the family thought was “out of his mind.” A family would not die for a liar when they would not even show up at his own execution. So something must have happened.

The historic record, both Biblical and extra-Biblical, shows that Jesus’s brothers did accept him as the Christ after Jesus’s death. Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 15, reports that after his resurrection Christ “appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time …. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” That would be Jesus’s brother James — the brother who tried to stage an intervention and would not even show up at Jesus’s execution.

James became a pillar of the early church. Early church historians record that years after the resurrection, when local public officials asked James to tell others Jesus was not the Christ, James proclaimed that his brother was the Lord. The local leaders then threw James off the Temple wall in Jerusalem and stoned him to death. James and Jesus’s brother Simeon then took up James’ place. Their brother Jude too proclaimed Christ as the Messiah. He too was executed.

Many people reject these things as myth. The historic record shows that, regardless, the events of this week two thousand years ago fundamentally reshaped the world. More likely than not, the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” would not have happened, but for Jesus first proclaiming himself “the way, and the truth, and the life.”

To find out more about Erick Erickson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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