A friend emailed me this morning, distraught that he’d been unfriended on Facebook because of some comments he’d made defending Christianity. I didn’t find his remarks all that offensive—unfriending seems a rather extreme reaction!
Then there was this week’s news that North Korea has banned the import of any products with shapes or logos resembling a cross. It’s not just religious articles or symbols—the ban includes men’s neckties and women’s hair pins!
At first glance, these two events seem to have little in common. A closer look suggests that the same emotion underlies both—fear. Let me explain.
Facebook is full of disagreements. You post a recommendation for a particular microbrew. I think beer tastes awful. I comment that cats should be kept safely indoors. You think cats should be free to roam. We have different tastes in music, hold opposite opinions on environmental issues, or disagree about pesticides, but we still remain friends. Why is religion—and Christianity in particular—the one exception, provoking such strong reactions?
And what would prompt a national leader to hate a religion so much that he refuses to allow clothing that happens to take a particular shape when worn? (I’m not sure how they get a cross out of a tie—it more resembles a T to me.) It makes one start searching for traumatic events in his childhood .
Christianity—or, more specifically, the God of the Bible—tends to incite responses all out of proportion to its intentions. Why have Jews been so hated over the centuries? Why are Christians persecuted in so many countries? Even here in the U.S., while we don’t endure nearly the level of persecution that believers in other places do, it’s considered fair game to ridicule our faith—but not any other. Christianity is singled out as the one faith that’s not politically correct—in spite of the fact that Christians benefit whatever country they live in. The church is responsible for ending the 19th century slave trade, building hospitals and schools, caring for orphans and widows, feeding the poor, and in general improving the lot of people around the world. You’d think we’d be popular! So why is our faith so disparaged?
Sure, there are times when believers invite ridicule. We do or say stupid things and deserve the response we get. But that doesn’t explain why Christianity is banned in North Korea (and other countries). It doesn’t explain why Russia just made it illegal to talk about one’s faith anywhere but in a church building. It doesn’t explain why Hitler murdered six million Jews—and approximately three million Christians.
On the other hand, the real question should be, why are we surprised? Jesus warned us that this sort of thing would happen.
In Matthew 10:22, he says, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Further on, in Matthew 24:9 we read, “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Mark and Luke record similar passages.) And finally, in John 15:18-19, Jesus explains to his disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
So why does the world hate Jesus and his followers? In John 7:7, Jesus tells his disciples, “The world … hates me because I testify that its works are evil.” Aha. No one wants to feel convicted. It’s a miserable feeling. Of course, the purpose is to bring us to repentance—but not everyone wants to repent. I’d hate to be the leader of North Korea when he meets God face to face. He has reason to fear!
But that’s not all. It’s not a popular topic, and we tend to avoid it even in the church, but the Bible clearly tells us that this world is ruled by someone who hates God—and he knows that the best way to hurt God is to hate the people God loves. You can clearly see the result in groups like ISIS and other terrorist organizations. But he also works on a personal level, turning hearts against Jesus and those of us who follow him.
Not only that, but it’s getting worse. There’s no way you could describe the United States as a “Christian” country, not now. I believe that’s because we’re running out of time, and the devil knows it: “But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” (Revelation 12:12b)
So what should our response be when we’re unfriended or ridiculed? Jesus told us what to do:
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 4:44-45)