The first issue of the new international theological journal Unio cum Christo appears this Fall. The theme is Christian witness. Victims of persecution are not losers but triumph with and in Christ…
A profound paradox concerning Christian suffering runs through the New Testament and on from there throughout the church age. It is part of the paradox of the gospel and of Christ’s own person and work. The Lord was despised and rejected, put to death in weakness, but raised in glory. The gospel is foolish ignorance for those who are perishing, the wise of this world, but for those who believe, it is the power of God for salvation and the wisdom of God, against all conventions and appearances. It is something to be proud of (Rom 1:16–17); losing in the world’s terms is winning by the power of the gospel in the light of eternity. Pascal got it right in his famous wager (pari): winning everything in this life is nothing next to losing eternity. By losing in this world in God’s service, we win for eternity, just as Christ lost his life in obedience to the Father but took it up again as the firstfruits of the new creation.
Persecution and opposition are the bane of the church, which is weak in terms of the powers of this age. It often seems that she will come to nought and be wiped out completely, but God raises up his people and snatches them from the dragon’s jaws. “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10 ESV) is the witness of the church as well as the apostle. This is no beggarly excuse, but simply what the eye of faith sees: that out of human weakness comes divine strength, out of death comes new life, and out of suffering glory. The old creation is in labor pains delivering the new (Rom 8:22). The world will never see it, nor did the world see it in the Lord. Only the eye of faith sees it, and this truth will strengthen any knees that tremble in the heat of opposition, and renew hope for those who are down-trodden to the point of despair. Moreover, all that we do here in this passing world will not be for it, but for Christ’s kingdom.
Dying we live, losing we win, because the way of the cross is the way of victory. God’s people should learn in bad times, or in better, that the good times will be eternal because Christ won the victory. He is winning, and will win, in spite of the adversary, our sinfulness, and many failings. United with Christ the church wins; divided from him by worldly power and compromise, she falls.
Those who pass through fiery trial know this all too well, because they know that the way of the cross is the only hope possible. We in the West are at a certain disadvantage here. Because of the heritage of the Reformation we have come to take freedom and the good life for granted, and too often we act as if we were “at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1). But it was not always so; these privileges were hard won through affliction and martyrdom. At present they seem to be eroding gradually, and who knows what the future will hold if our nations persist in turning their backs on the gospel? Who can say that tribulation will not be ours one day, if a godless church and radical secularistic autonomy rule the roost?
When and if this happens our question should not be why but rather why not? Is this not the lot of all who are faithful to the Lord Jesus? If that should be the case, we too will have the joy of winning by faith in Christ, even though everything may disintegrate all around. As the old hymn goes, after the “night of weeping will come the morn of song.” We may lose every battle, but the final war will end in Christ’s victory. Such faith is hope for the hopeless and comfort for the downtrodden.
Editor in chief