I had a crush on her. She was a petite brunette whose attention I managed to get, but only occasionally, and never of the romantic kind. I once went up Interstate 55 in my red Volkswagen Beetle to her hometown for a visit. We never even connected; she was a no-show! Nothing ever came of it.
On this particular day I experienced the last nail in the coffin of our non-relationship (or of my crush). It proved also to be a sign of the fact that “nothing ever came of it” was a good thing.
I was taking a metaphysics class. It was an easy A, and of some interest to be sure. I was always willing to share my faith during those days, and eventually became known as the religious one in our class. This, however, would be my first foray into the waters of faith-sharing in a hostile environment. I didn’t expect it. I went in almost completely unprepared.
The professor asked us to bring to class “something that you find comforting.” We sat in a large circle around the perimeter of the room, desks facing inward. The professor would come in, take his seat, and stroke his beard. A few minutes would pass, and he would finally say, “Does anyone have something to share?”
After a short while I decided to share from the Gospel of Matthew:
[Jesus says,] “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? 31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:25-34
The response was nothing like I expected. I was ridiculed for finding this comforting. “That’s not comforting. ‘Today has enough trouble of its own.’ Really? Others chimed in along the same lines. I didn’t know what to say. I was rocked by their reaction, and stunned that none of the other Christians in the class came to my defense.
My next class was choir. She was there, speaking with a guy before class started. I later figured out that she was dating him. But since she was a Christian and I had actually met her at the Lutheran Campus Center, I figured I’d get some sympathy from her.
“I took this to class today.” I showed her my New English Version of the Bible. I had received it as a confirmation gift about a year before. “I read from Matthew, and you wouldn’t believe how they reacted.” Her boyfriend remained quiet. I guess I had embarrassed her by implying that she would be sympathetic to my misfortune. “They jumped down my throat. It was awful.”
“Dave,” she said, “don’t be a fanatic.”
Ugh. If the earlier attack had been a hurtful experience, this was a punch in the gut. I guess I should have known, but I didn’t. I thought I was in a safe place, and with a safe person. I was not.
That is nothing, however, compared to Julie Aftab’s experience. Here’s part of her story:
She was 16 years old, working as an operator in a tiny, public call office in Pakistan, when a man walked in and saw the silver cross dangling around her neck.
He asked her three times: “Are you a Christian?”
Julie Aftab answered, “Yes, sir,” the first two times, and then got frustrated.
“Didn’t you hear me?” she asked.
They argued, and the man abruptly left the little office, returning 30 or 40 minutes later with a turquoise bottle. Aftab tried to block the arc of battery acid, but it melted much of the right side of her face and left her with swirling, bone-deep burns on her chest and arms. She ran for the door, but a second man grabbed her hair, and they poured the acid down her throat, searing her esophagus.
Julie is now a missionary with People of the Book Lutheran Outreach (POBLO). She has told her story a number of times and now, living in Houston, seeks to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to women from Muslim countries. Hers is not the only story of people who suffer for the sake of the Gospel.
Jesus’ words to his disciples help us in those times we are attacked for our faith. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:10
When we suffer for the sake of the Gospel it is no time to feel bad about feeling bad. Suffering in this case is not a judgment of God, but a visitation of cruel unkindness against God. We ought to feel bad when we suffer. But we need never despair. We need not worry that we are not living up to God’s standards. The question is not whether we are being punished for our sins.
But neither should we be surprised.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. – 1 Peter 4:12-14
This is a lesson I need to learn, and how to handle the suffering we experience whether or not we see it coming.