I've had Foxe's Book of Martyrs for a while now but just recently decided to read it. That book is hard to read. Not because it's old and boring but because it's so action packed that if you read it in one sitting you'll probably have a heart-attack by the end of the book. It's so surreal, you'd think its fiction. Unfortunately, it's not... Here are a few excerpts:
“Julianus, an old man, lame with gout, and Cronion, another christian, were bound on the backs of camels, severely scourged, and then thrown into a fire and consumed. Also, forty virgins, at Antioch, after being imprisoned and scourged, were burned.”
“Symphorosa, a widow, and her seven sons, were commanded by the emperor to sacrifice to the heathen deities. She was carried to the temple of Hercules, scourged, and hung up, for some time, by the hair of her head: then being taken down, a large stone was fastened to her neck, and she was thrown into the river, where she expired. With respect to the sons, they were fastened to seven posts, and being drawn up by pullies, their limbs were dislocated: these tortures, not affecting their resolution, they were martyred by stabbing, except the Eugenus, the youngest, who was sawed asunder.”
After reading that, it'd be hard not to ask why God allowed that to happen. Why didn't God bless the early church the way He's blessing the church today?
The answer to that lies in the question.
In the church I used to go to, they would once in a while have someone share his/her testimony at the pulpit. This one time, it was somebody I've met from the Senior Men's Discipleship group (or small group, whatever your church might call them). Why was I in the Senior Men's group? Well, the Single's group was too... uhm... immature for my taste. Anyway, so he went up to the pulpit and shared his story. He's a wealthy gentleman who's life started going downhill soon after he became a Christian. I remember him saying, "Why am I experiencing this? My life should be better now that I'm a Christian." He did end his testimony with a realization that life is just like that sometimes. Typical Christian testimony. What got me interested was not his testimony but how the church goers reacted after hearing his story. A lot of them were saying, "That's it?" or, “Where’s the happy ending?” or, "Parang bitin (Feels incomplete)." I was thinking, "Incomplete?" I guess almost all the testimonies they present at the pulpit are about how lives were in shambles and everything worked out fine after they became a Christian. They're so used to hearing that Christianity will fix your life so when somebody shared how becoming a Christian and didn't make his life better, they ask why didn't God make his life better. In fact I often hear things like, "I've been a Christian for several years now and my marriage is still I ruins."
Maybe it's not that God is blessing some people and others not, maybe we're looking at it the wrong way.
This reminds me of last Christmas’ (2010) Jollibee commercial. I tried looking for a copy of the commercial in YouTube but I can't find one (Even if I did, I might be breaking some copyright laws by posting it). So, I'll just describe it for you. The story revolves around a family and like any typical Filipino family they go to church at midnight for the Simbang Gabi (evening mass) during Christmas. It's traditionally known that if you complete the 9-day Simbang Gabi series, you can make a wish and it will come true. The first scene in the commercial is inside a church and we get to hear what the people are praying for. Actually, all you hear is "I wish..." and "I wish..." and "I wish..." and "I wish..." until they zoom in to the family where the older sister prays that her younger brother would be less annoying and the younger brother prays that her older sister would be more considerate. After church they go to Jollibee for breakfast (you HAVE to go to Jollibee after church. That's the law) and the younger brother does become less annoying and the older sister becomes more considerate. Then the commercial ends with a phrase saying that some wishes do come true.
That got me thinking. Is that really how we think of God? As an eternal genie? Just ask something and He'll give it to you free of charge? I think that commercial is a clear reflection of how most people in the Philippines think of God (even if they deny it) and not just the particular denomination the commercial depicts. Don't believe me? Ask anybody living in the Philippines if they were appalled by that commercial or if they even noticed how God was depicted there. You'd be hard pressed to find even one.
Another story that comes to mind is about a guy who, having seen a gorgeous young woman, prays to God that she would date him. He prayed hard, I bet, because she already has a boyfriend for several years. They did eventually date and ended up liking each other a lot (something the life of me can't fully understand). On one conversation of their conversations, they decided not to see each other anymore because it's wrong. Then he asked her, "Did you pray for me? Maybe God is just answering your prayer. Because I know I prayed for you." Her answer? "No!" Maybe he forgot that she had a boyfriend. Anyway, that story is from two people who are actively attending a christian church. Think about it, 1) he's coveting someone else wife, or future wife (10th Commandment) and 2) he's lusting over somebody (7th Commandment, Mt 5:27-28). How can one even think of adding, "In Jesus' name" to a request like that!? It's like praying, "God, my officemate is annoying. Could you kill him please? In Jesus' name. Amen."
God didn't promise that your life will be better if you become a Christian. In fact He promised the exact opposite. Here's what the Bible says:
“We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
“Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved." Matthew 10:16-22
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. Luke 14:26-33
Don't believe it? Think about it this way, if God will bless a group of people it would be His chosen people. Let's even narrow it down to the people who are close to Jesus, the apostles. Here's what happened to them:
If God promised that Christians will have an abundant life, then why did the apostles live and die the way they did? It means God lied. And if He's a liar, we shouldn't be trusting His promise of eternity in heaven. In fact how can we even trust Him that there is a heaven?
So God lied?
Definitely not! You see abundant means plenty, or overflowing. Did the apostles live an abundant life? They did! It was overflowing of persecution and the pain was more than plenty.
Why then are not getting persecution today?
Maybe you should ask yourself that. Because God said that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) and Christians around the globe are getting persecuted.
See for yourself.
Update: Looks like YouTube decided to pull the plug on this video for its graphic nature. Here's a link to the same video from another source. http://www.blip.tv/file/4984261
Update: I guess the video's too graphic because the link above was also taken down. I've replaced the video with a less graphic one.
This has been rather long but I hope I've at least opened your eyes to the reality of what other believers are facing. Please let us know what you think.