The World Can Hurt You. When It Does, Love Anyway.
A time may come when your allegiance to Christ and the truth become costly to you. When faithful discipleship becomes incompatible with the dogma, moral vision, prevailing narratives, and laws of the land as it increasingly has, it is only a matter of time before God’s people experience resistance and possibly outright rejection.
If this happens in our lifetimes, it will be because Jesus said it would. What’s more, such conflict might actually be a sign of our faithfulness, for it is not the presence of conflict, but rather the absence of conflict, that should concern those who claim to be his disciples.
Jesus said that his true disciples will be persecuted and have false things said about them. He said that following him involves denying ourselves daily, taking up a cross, and following him. The Apostle Paul similarly said, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). Paul also said that he himself wanted “to know [Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).
If things get worse for Christians, we should not be undone or obsessed about reclaiming “the good old days,” as if the good old days ever really existed. The Bible’s directive, “Do not fear,” holds firm especially in a climate of opposition and persecution. Jesus is with us and is for us in any and every circumstance. If Paul can say from prison that, through Christ, he is able be content in every situation, then it’s true that we also can declare the same.
Our hope is not anchored in this present world but in the world to come. That being true, our long-term worst case scenario is resurrection and everlasting life, an eternity of perpetual and unending strength, momentum, and bliss. In and through Christ, the wind will always and forever be at our backs. It will be a world in which, as C.S. Lewis has said, every day will be better than the day before. It will also be a world in which, as J.R.R. Tolkien has said, everything sad will come untrue. Sorrow will be no more, and all things will be redeemed.
So take the next step forward, follower of Christ. Even if things get so bad that you are tempted to throw in the towel, even if your every effort to love, show kindness to, and faithfully serve your neighbors gets squashed, even if the world responds to your love with rejection and resistance, you must continue to love on and to lead on. Even if the world starts feeling to you like a sinking ship, there is good reason to find a piece of brass on the Titanic to start polishing. For the task of Christian leaders is to remind themselves—and also those around them—that neither death nor mourning nor crying nor pain nor opposition nor hostility nor persecution nor anything else gets to dictate the story line in the Story of God. For in the Story of God, the final has been written and published and has firmly solidified history’s (and our) future.
Pause for a moment and exhale. Then, breathe this in deeply:
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-33, 35, 37-39)
Do we believe this? Even if we struggle to do so, it makes it no less true.
In the end, Jesus wins.
The last chapter will be one of never-ending, perpetual happiness and momentum. And the last chapter, unlike all chapters before it, will have no end.
But there’s more. If today’s followers of Christ fall on hard times, if we lose favor and become a persecuted or marginalized minority, it might actually mark the beginning of our truest impact. Any serious reading of Scripture confirms that it is not from a place of worldly or political power and privilege that God’s people have through the centuries found their firmest footing. Instead, it’s from a place of weakness and disadvantage. Historically, Christians have most impacted society not as some sort of “moral majority” but as a life-giving, love-driven minority. We can find inspiration in these words from the novelist Madeleine L’Engle:
“We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
Beneath L’Engle’s words is a truth that rings hopeful: No amount of opposition stopped Jesus from working to change the world through love. As his followers, opposition is our opportunity to walk in the path of the One who loved us and gave himself for us, to resist cynicism and despair and fear.
We can channel our efforts toward lives of radical kindness, generosity, and love for a hurting world…
…even if a hurting world does not love us back.