“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them... Do not repay evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
~Romans 12:14, 17-18 (NRSV).
This is a hard instruction for us all to comply with—because of our oft-reptilian brains. Bad things happen to us and before we know it we leap off at the predictable emotion-packed tangents.
There are two things to consider: knowledge of how the brain works to aid better responses, and the drawing near to God, so godly responses to transgressions are more probable. The first helps us emotionally; the second, spiritually.
The Nature of Persecution
The source of persecution in our lives is likely to have changed over the centuries. Apart from situations of the persecuted church—Christians and the Christian throng in heavily opposed foreign countries—there is much less persecution for Christian faith than there has been at poignant times in history. In the Western world, these days, it’s more likely that a Muslim will be openly persecuted for their faith than a Christian will be for theirs.
Christians are not seen as all that unfamiliar in the broader world these days.
Persecution for faith is more likely to occur because non-Christians around us are insensitive to our beliefs, and disrespectful of the moral code Christ issues as a gospel imperative. It’s unintended, insensitive or flippant persecution; not the traditional type.
Think of how we wince when we hear the now commonplace “OMG”. Or it’s the presence of open, unrepented-of, proud-to-claim-as-their-own sin. These things are offensive to us; these things persecute our spirits.
It can also be seen that persecution for reasons other than faith is commonplace when view is taken of bullying, betrayal and other transgressions made against us.
If we broaden our scope we can see that persecution is a problem we face in daily life.
The Brain – Using Its Higher Features to Respond Better
If we are given to flying off the handle our reptilian brains are serving us so well the survival instinct has taken over. The higher order brain (the neo cortex)—the one that readily reflects in the moment before intelligently responding—responds without undue emotion. It’s given to self-control. It’s what we use when we overcome our anger and respond to angering things in a more restrained way.
Using the better informed higher order brain means lots of practice in difficult situations, toward the learning of delaying judgment and the commitment of action until enough is known. By virtue of the delay, we give the emotionless mind time to think beyond the hurt and, indeed, for instance, into the consequences of reacting.
Leaning on the Holy Spirit
When all else fails, the Holy Spirit doesn’t—not when we surrender to powerful grace that’s always sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Nothing is a loss to the Holy Spirit. Even to come under fire and have nothing to return is victory; it’s seen as the victory of control. The anger of the reptilian mind did not win the day.
Relying on the Spirit, and not on our own powers, means entrusting the moment to God, and this is best achieved in praying during the actual testing time; even in the midst of the interaction. Like the telephone call where there is silence between the people on each end of the line, but a connection is still present, we’re listening for God’s intuition and we’re ready to obey the Lord’s moral resolve.
Loss in this world is not loss to the Lord. We’re challenged to rethink how Jesus would handle most of our persecutions. That’s our new standard: Jesus.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.