News is an interesting word to me and maybe it is to you as well. Journalists claim to report the news and the New York Times famously quips that it prints all the news that is fit to print. In the book Persecuted by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea, the theme is described as this: “we will focus solely the suffering inflicted on people at least in part because they are Christians—suffering they would not have had to endure if they were not believers in Jesus,” (p. 18).
I chose to read this, in part, because I picked up the title during the Easter season and finished it on a day labeled ‘Good Friday’ intentionally because it’s a day where suffering gets some attention. The book is divided in to political sections singling out the communist and post-communist countries as well as countries who are primarily devoted to Muslim faith and practice. At one point, the authors state that they want to highlight that freedom of religion is freedom for all religions and that Christianity just happens to be the focus of this particular volume. As a reader, I am glad for the statement, but found the book to be a bit more prejudiced toward the usual suspects. In other words, human rights violaters abound in this book, but the focus is outside the West and therefore I fear it reinforces some stereotypes unnecessarily.
It’s hard to get excited about a book like this for two reasons. First, the way it’s written is akin to being an Operation World for the persecuted church. The flow goes geographically moreso than theologically or pragmatically and the emphasis is more political than spiritual. With that said, it’s sobering to read what following Jesus actually means in certain contexts. On p. 93, the authors are on to something when they state that “Christianity is also attacked because it is an evangelizing religion,” which is not something to skim over. Where Christians keep to themselves and seek not to be persuasive, no one cares, but Christians who truly seek to share their faith publicly and persuasively, persecution will come.
Jesus says that blessed are those who are persecuted and that’s a bit lost in this volume, though a strength is in its inclusiveness within the Christian faith. The authors even say, “the repression falls on every type of Christian—Protestants and Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, Methodists and Mennonites, Charismatics and Calvinists….” In other words, one of the few things that truly cuts across all denominational lines is suffering in this world and the understanding that evil is real. This book will humble, disturb, and provoke you, but will it move you to action or just sadden you, that’s my question? And one I am still wrestling with.
(note: I received a copy of this book free of charge from Thomas Nelson Publishing and the views expressed here are my own. I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255)
Tim Keller helps us Make Sense of Suffering
In this clip below, Keller is asked about things like the Holocaust and the age old question, ‘How can God let some awful things happen?’ His reply is thoughtful and I believe important. First, it’s thoughtful because he asked to clarify the question, which is something many Christians forget to do. Secondly, it’s an important answer because we are all forced to deal with suffering in a certain context and in a way that first points the discussion at our own heart. In other words, do you know what you believe and why you believe it? Ideas really do have consequences.