The most graphic reason life doesn’t work is the seeming inequity between our instinctive sense of justice and the reality relating to how things work out.
Life isn’t fair.
This is a conundrum that has troubled all generations over the history of humankind. Nowhere in human parlance, nor in ancient antiquity ‘til the present day, is there cited any absolute passage for peace in the world—especially for those trying to live right.
Persecution is the lot for those who do right.
Accusing God and the Madness of Injustice
We might be tempted to disparage God for having created such a life; an existence that is more to be endured than enjoyed. Many people give up on God or resent God for the facts of life, that there is no reward here, in this life, for many of our righteous deeds. And this fact troubles our human outlook regarding such things as fairness and justice.
If God is God, surely there is fairness and justice and righteousness, as promised in the Bible (see Proverbs 1–2). How can God just stand back and watch the innocent ones be trapped and maimed and humiliated and condemned? Why are we denigrated, accused, slandered and defamed? Are we not just trying to live life the best we can? Do we have it out for other people? Are we enemies of God?
So we can understand why people see justice in life as sheer madness. The law is an ass. Or so they say. But if we believe God is God then we have to entertain, even upon a lighter, more transient moment, that there are perhaps many things we don’t understand. Maybe we are just being naïve. But can the whole world be naïve?
Perhaps the point is, it isn’t the whole world that attempts to be righteous. We are told to obey God, and our instincts tell us, besides our salvation, that this is the right thing to do. We feel horrible when we know we have done wrong. We cannot endure feeling so wrong. It begins to destroy us.
So, in being committed towards faithfulness to God, in trying to live as righteous as we can, which is the opposite of self-righteousness, we still wonder why justice evades us. Why do we attract the bully? Why is it that the foul mocker, and the calamitous fool, are granted safe passage, and seem blessed indeed, even to reign over us?
Why is it so that wanton sinners find peace in a life that God supposedly controls? The more they sin the more they seem to get away with. And the more that happens, the more they laugh at God, and look at us sideways in their laughter. They despise justice and they live only for themselves, thinking that life will endure, or perhaps they just enjoy it as selfishly as possible for as long as it lasts.
They don’t believe in judgment, for if they did they would not do the things they do. There would be a good measure of certitude, of introspection, even repentance. But they do not believe. The world is their oyster; they think they own it; and they try to own us, too.
So, how are we to respond?
Well, to begin with, we may not be as innocent as what we think we are at first glance. Whilst we try to live righteous lives, we, like they, are sinners. We may hate the fact that we are sinners, somehow occasionally justifying, before God, our sins as piousness, and only reconciling this understanding with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
We, like they, hate being wrong. Our pride reveals us as sinners. And unfortunately pride begets pride. We respond to their overtures of power with so-called righteous indignation, but we frequently overstep our mark. We, the hurt, react in the hurt to hurt those who hurt us. And when we play the game, with odds in their favour, we come out second best just about every time. Our hurts are polarised and they get buried deeper and deeper into our self-structure. We become more prone to sin the more we contest the aberrant sinner. It’s an insidiously vicious cycle.
The most obvious problem we have is we cannot change the world or the people we have been ‘selected’ to live with. We don’t have to find a way of accepting all this, but we are fools if we don’t try. And that is the juncture everybody is faced with.
What do we do with the injustices that have happened and will continue to happen to us? What do we do with such maddening prospects given the maddening things that have happened? Do we suffer in silence with no hope but for despairing? Do we wait as lambs before the slaughterer? Do we meekly say nothing? Do we not resist?
The lands of confusion always promote questioning. And whilst questioning might prove frustrating in the interim, it has to help from a longer term perspective.
Certainly we may come to a precipice, where, with sight for all that is around us, we may be given to panic attacks. When we see everything as hopeless our hope fades and, with it, our cognisance of God, too. We grow further and further, in our shrinking, from God. And we only recognise this when we are so far away, when we have so long to travel back, when we have almost given up hope of reconnecting with God.
But, strangely, this is often a position of heart where God is closest to connecting with us. When we have done things our way for far too long, and suddenly it appears we have lost our way, we can quickly recognise the breath of God warming our ear; God may be there, right beside us, ready to encourage and urge us to live the best we can, despite our circumstances.
It is a strange reality to note the convergence of our honest recognition of our sinfulness with the favour of God to pick us up and take us further along the path.
Such a reality, as we look back, seemed so elusive—to achieve peace within—yes, despite our circumstances—and it was raw honesty before God, and the whole world, that got us there. We live freely for once and we are liberated, saved afresh. And our salvation came not because other people were put in their place; their place remains. Our sense of deliverance came not because another person was judged; they may continue as they have been. Our knowledge of God has been enhanced because we started to see ourselves in relationship with God; that, in isolation, proved more edifying, more transforming, and more illuminating, than we could have expected in our wildest dreams. Such is the grace of God to turn our world upside down, yet have us feeling on top of our world.
But we started with persecution; and persecution of the righteous!
The Righteousness of God
So we are not righteous, but deemed righteous by faith in God, through our Saviour, the Father’s only Son—the Lord Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, as our life force and as our Spiritual guide. The righteousness of the Spirit is what speaks then into our lives, judging us, upon every move we make. We are accountable to God. And repentance becomes a key way we relate with our God.
Regarding life and death, then, or perhaps better put, death and life, we have symbols in the cross and the resurrection. Jesus was persecuted and died on the cross to put to death the eternal power of sin, for those who would believe, and was raised again so that we may have life, true life, in his name. Until we know this true life the old life seems like life. But from the context of the true life the old life pales into insignificance.
The cross is our righteousness and the resurrection is our hope. The cross was death, and death to our sin, but the resurrection was life for us, life beyond hopelessness, even in the midst of impossible persecutions.
Convicted – Guilty As Charged! – (But Is That So?)
But I, for one, am not worthy of the righteousness of God to save me from my sins. I can’t think of anything truer. Having lived as a born-again Christian for years I still sin, both unintentionally and intentionally. What is to become of me? Not only would there be fear for judgment on the Day of the Lord, but there is fear for judgment in the present day, before the very lords that persecute me. Aha, I find myself guilty having judged myself! Am I persecuted after all? Or is it that God has seen it fit to try my conscience?
Is it perhaps that the Spirit of the Lord is working within my conscience to judge me, to deem me guilty of self-righteousness, in the midst of others legitimately calling me to account? These are the appropriate testings of the Lord—the God that searches out our hearts and discerns the motives that are designed by a sinful nature.
I am a wretched man. There is no truer truth. But, praise God, due the obedience of the Son, my case is not forlorn and never will be. But should I sin? No I shouldn’t. Will I sin? Yes I will. I know this and accept it. Holding the tension of both realities; it tests my spiritual resolve.
And in the mix of mistakes and slips and lapses and errors of omission and intention, and even of lies, there is forgiveness—how or why; that’s the mystery. Can we adequately understand the grace of God to make things right which are interminably wrong? No, nobody can understand nor explain. Grace is a concept too high for human thinking; it is too high for a human conception of morality.
Then there are practical concerns of living as a Christian person in a heathen world. There is, then, thought of the battleground environment the Christian finds themselves in. Surely they were saved from this? Surely things got better at salvation, not worse?
Fear fills the heart in the instant of recognition that we are but bait for Satan, despite our situational righteousness and unrighteousness. We enter the battleground as surely as we live and breathe, even besides leaving the front door. Satan uses the sinful nature with nimble aplomb. And if we are not tricked into sinning, either overtly or covertly, Satan will coerce our mood, and soon we will complain about our lot in life, and about how tardy our Defender is in delivering us from the injustices of life. Oh, that sinful nature, again!
Either way Satan will attack us. Either way we will be drawn into spiritual warfare. Either way, we will be ‘found guilty’ in the eyes of the evil one. And only cognisance of our worth in God, and our righteousness by faith, can save us in practical ways.
We are guilty of ourselves, yet entirely innocent because of grace—praise God. We need frequent reminding.
Battleground Modus Operandi
This world of spiritual warfare, the battleground of Belial, is ours by default of our existence. There is no real point in disparaging God, or in getting glum about it, because we can do nothing about its presence here with us. There are evil forces about, and they collude with both our sinful and situationally righteous selves.
We obviously need a battleground modus operandi; one that helps us in this spiritual warfare to maintain as good a focus on God as we can. The only way to challenge persecution, and be even remotely successful, is to be prepared to fight; to fight the good fight. And there is no point in not fighting. Even if we hate fighting we must learn to fight this fight. We must remember that God is with us, for us, never against us—especially as we fight in his name.
How do we fight, then? We learn to keep moving, not physically, but mentally, as we ready ourselves for an imminent attack. We are not fearful, just ready, expecting a tough unrelenting battle. We become battle-hardened—in our minds and hearts—and battle-ready. We remember that we face off with the devil, even in our weakness, with the strength of the Lord Almighty.
It is a great advantage to us when we can approach each day, as if to say by our demeanour, “For the tests and temptations and persecutions already coming, make me ready, Lord, that I would have as positive an attitude as possible, Amen.”
It may be easy to pray this prayer, but it is much harder to actually live it.
As we keep moving and steadying our spiritual gait as the moments intercede, we remind ourselves of the resilience we need to draw upon beyond our losses. We try to remain in check of our emotions, being reminded that the business of life is just that; a business, plain and simple, without much need for losing control. The unemotional approach to life is its own blessing. We get to experience peace for free.
When we are pushed by people we don’t react. Instead we learn to ask questions as our contribution to the dialogue. We get just as much out of life and from our interactions just asking questions than we do by making bold and outlandish statements. The best of communicators—and Jesus exemplified this—communicate much of what they think via questions. The good questioner can demonstrate lucid listening abilities as well as have the discernment to challenge many lies and deceptions by using a persuasive line of questioning in the seeking of truth.
We can also learn to laugh within ourselves; to not take life so seriously. Why do we lose so much sleep, and get anxious, over the little issues of life? And we should know, anxiety is the revelatory vehicle bringing to the surface our pain deep beneath. Much of this pain exists dormantly as in a muddy creek bed deeper into the psyche than much of the time we can access. Yet our dreams and our interactions are important clues for what lies deep beneath. We may be able to shift, or at least shore-up, what is deep beneath, to some extent, by getting into habits of sight where clear and broad perspective is visible.
We might also implement a C.A.L.M. approach to all facets of life.
If we can be Careful regarding our approach in dubious situations, and Agile enough to battle well in the presence of stealth warfare, always prepared to Love (which is also the preparedness to invoke the disciplinary truth-first ‘tough love’), we can prove Mature by demonstration of how we handle the situation.
Because the righteous live by faith (Romans 1:17) they are prepared to accept that what goes with the territory of this world, particularly as a Christian, is spiritual warfare. By faith the righteous fight the good fight of faith in obedience to God.
One purpose of persecution is to get us to draw near to our only help: God. Because this world is evil, persecution in this life is a given. Faith is the only way we can overcome. Faith is the ultimate, general-purpose problem solver.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.