“Daddy, why do people kill Christians?”
The question caught me completely off-guard as it came out of the mouth of my five-year-old daughter.
My children have been working through the Torchlighters animated series. The DVDs tell of great heroes of the faith, some who were martyred for the name of Christ.
While every story is tamed down and the violence is never overblown, it has opened her eyes to the reality of persecution.
I came home one day after she watched The Perpetua Story. Perpetua was a third-century Christian in Carthage. She and her church had been arrested and sentenced to death in the Coliseum.
The story is based on the written record Perpetua left behind. She wrote how God gave her peace in the midst of her imprisonment, but that is not what my daughter took away from it. She finished the show wondering why people, who are called by God to love others, are hated so strongly by the world.
Engage has talked about persecution many, many times. We spend one week out of every year solely focused on encouraging persecuted brothers and sisters in the faith. But how could I answer her question?
In the simplest manner I could find, I explained that the world expects us to be just like it. We are expected to love the things it loves and hates the things it hates.
But we aren’t like the world. The Bible tells us what to love and what to hate. We love people, and we hate sin. We love righteousness and hate lawlessness.
Because there are these differences, and they are differences the world doesn’t understand, they hate us, and will continue hating us.
It all took about 10 seconds. She nodded, smiled, said, “Okay,” and went into the other room to color a unicorn.
She may have been done with the question; I wasn’t.
I know Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you,” in John 15:18. I read that and understand it. But that doesn’t make the reality easier to swallow.
Looking through the history of true Christianity, it would seem the world would love followers of Christ. Look at the late era of the Roman Empire. Christians built hospitals and hospices. They took care of widows and orphans. They fed the hungry.
Consider education. Martin Luther emphasized the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer and said everyone should be able to read the New Testament for themselves. Literacy in Germany skyrocketed. When Puritans landed in America, it only took them six years to establish what would become Harvard.
This is not to say everything done in the name of Jesus has been a reflection of who He is. Look no further than the Crusades, people using the Bible to defend slavery, or things of that nature. But we must remember that not all movements waving the Christian flag are Christian. For that, we must view any movement in light of the truths of Scripture.
Aside from that, it still doesn’t answer the question why the world hates Christians today, so many years removed from those atrocities.
“If you Christians would only accept people for who they are and not try shoving your morality down our throats,” I hear people say. (Literally, I hear people say that regularly.)
Perhaps that is a good topic to discuss. Even from the first century, Christians have stood by the moral and ethical commands of Scripture. While the cultures they found themselves in bowed down to emperors and idols, Christians worshiped Jesus alone. Romans were known for being sexually promiscuous (sexual revolutions are not really a new thing in human history). They believed a particular plant could prevent pregnancy and used it so much it went extinct. But Christians stood in sexual purity and were seen as odd for doing so.
Did those differences merit the persecution, beating, and execution Christians suffered? Would those differences merit the persecutions Christians endure today?
I don’t think we can put our finger on the single thing the world hates so much about Christians and the God we worship. But Scripture cuts to the heart of every reason, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak” (2 Corinthians 2:15-17).
“A fragrance from death to death.”
To those who reject the gospel, the Christian preaches foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). But more than that, the gospel shines a lighthouse-sized spotlight on their sin. Rather than repenting in humility and throwing themselves on the mercy of the cross, they cling to their sin and seek darkness into which they can hide (John 3:19).
The Christian can find hope in the fact that, though the world may reject and hate the gospel, their rejection and hate cannot diminish the glory of it.
Commentator John Lange wrote, “We convey to all the sweet odor of Christ, though all who participate in it do not attain salvation. Thus the light is noxious to diseased eyes, and yet it is not the sun which produces the injury. It is said that vultures avoid the fragrance of myrrh, and yet the myrrh is no less myrrh for being shunned by vultures. Even so the preaching of salvation tends to save those who believe, though it brings perdition to such as believe not.”
As followers of Christ, we must continue pursuing Him, obeying Him, and honoring Him, no matter the cost. As we try, and as we follow stories of brothers and sisters paying a steep price for their faith, let us relish in the hope of Romans 8:18, “…the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”