Let us not fool ourselves: it will not get any better. “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18: 8), the Lord tells us. Paul the Apostle points us to the “evil times” (Ephesians 5:16), so then we have to be careful how we live, “not as unwise, but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15).
“The persecution and genocide of Christians across the world is worse today than at any time in history,” commented Newsweek (February 16, 2019) the report of a Roman Catholic organization Aid to the Church in Need, “and Western governments are failing to stop it.” This organization said that the treatment of Christians has worsened substantially in the past two years compared with the two years prior, and has grown more violent than in any other period in modern times.
The plight of Christians in China, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Turkey was examined. “It showed that in that time, Christians suffered crimes against humanity, and some were hanged or crucified. The report found that Saudi Arabia was the only country where the situation for Christians did not get worse, and that was only because the situation couldn’t get any worse than it already was.”
I have been reading similar reports for a long time now and I am trying to find meaning to our suffering. “We are destined to bear the Cross,” said our Bishop Njegos. When he says that the Cross is our destiny, then he designates his fellow men to the Cross and suffering. So, when we Christians make the sign of the cross and when we kiss it, we are acknowledging our cross-bearing designation. By taking up the Cross, we accept our sufferings that come upon us; and not only the ones we have chosen, but also the ones which God has chosen for us.
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34), says Christ. This is truly a unique declaration, unheard of before, and even after Christ. All the other “leaders” promise heaven on earth, yet bring nothing but terror and suffering. Our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to follow Him and His cross. We must know and we must count on the fact that “all who desire to live godly in Jesus Christ will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). We cannot reconcile our designation for suffering and our desire for a good life. We must decide which kingdom we choose. “We cannot serve both God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24).
When someone, through no fault of their own, suffers; when the poor soul is slandered and humiliated, we Serbs have a saying: “He suffers unjustly before God.” Our people grasped what kind of suffering is pleasing to God: the one that we, the innocent, endure. “For what credit is there,” asks the martyr of God, Peter the Apostle, “if when you do wrong and are beaten, you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favour with God” (1 Peter 2:20). Scripture states, “Blessed are those who suffer for righteousness sake” (1 Peter 3:14), “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mathew 5:10).
Christians take their suffering with joy, not as something they have been doomed to suffer, or as a blow fate has dealt them, but rather as something that is implied in their life. Scripture states, “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name”(1 Peter 4:15-16). “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right, rather than for doing what is wrong” (1 Peter 3:17), says the holy Apostle Peter.
Any Christian can, as many false Christians do, find a way to settle his accounts with the evil of this world at the cost of his soul – but in doing so, he is no longer a Christian. A true Christian sees the sign of God’s mercy in his own suffering. Israel’s teachers of law were unable to argue the words of the holy apostles in any other way than by force. “When they had beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:40-41).
“May God never bestow upon me all that I can bear,” people say. And, indeed, God does not allow His followers to suffer more that they are able to bear. Apostle Paul gives encouragement to the Christians of Corinth and says, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). God gives strength and endurance to those who suffer. “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble” (Psalm 9: 9). He does not forsake those who seek Him (Psalm 9:10). The Lord will take their burden and sustain the oppressed. “He will never allow the righteous to fall” (Psalm 55, 22).
The worth and the truthfulness of our faith is tested through the fire of suffering. “Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
God is the pledge and the guarantor of our suffering. “We suffer with Christ, and we are glorified with Him” (Romans 8:17).
Obviously, difficult times lie ahead. What are we to do is the next logical question. An honest man must re-examine and strengthen oneself, so as to prepare for what is coming. God, our dearest Father, knowing our weaknesses and falls, allows us to avoid the inevitable. “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next” (Matthew 10:23). He too postponed his death several times, for his hour had not yet come. And when our hour comes, we have no choice but to accept the suffering, and by our endurance we shall gain our lives (Luke 21:18).