I know the “why” from the human perspective. There was always a political reason. Someone in authority was ticked off and had the power to arrest and beat him. Or, there were crowds who got riled up at what he was saying and grabbed him and stoned him.
But that's just the human perspective. I want to know what I can expect of God.
God routinely performed extraordinary miracles through the hand of Paul (Act 19:11,12) . Paul delivered people from bondage all the time. Be it, sickness, or demons, he commanded and they departed. So why not bind the whips, and change the trajectory of the stones, for himself?
There was supernatural aid for others through him, but not so much for him. Why?
I know some of the answer to this too. “Because Jesus promised it would be that way for His disciples (John 15:20)!” That gets much closer to what I am after. (What is true for the Son is true for His brothers and sisters.) But it doesn't quite get to the point.
Why did Jesus promise it would be that way?
God is obviously able to deliver, so why does He have a policy of not delivering – of letting His dearest go through cruel torture? Not all of the time, but most of the time?
Even these questions don't narrow it down well enough. To them I could say, “Because God does something in us through suffering that He can't do without suffering.” Or, “Because we demonstrate our union with Christ in His obedience, and our separation from Adam in his disobedience, when we remain obedient in the face of persecution or hardship.” We fill up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions ( Col 1:24). We know Him and the fellowship of His suffering, being conformed to His death, in order that we may attain to the resurrection from the dead ( Phil 3:10,11). We establish our place as fellow heirs with Christ “if indeed we suffer with Him.” (Romans 8:17)
That get's to be pretty profound stuff. But for today, my quest is more basic, – more narrative than theological. I want to understand what I can expect of a life with God, for me, now. And persecution helps me figure that out.
I want to talk about the ache. I think we need to set our expectations for our life with God here and now so that there is always an ache.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Why was Paul stoned, whipped, beaten, and jailed so often?
At it's most basic level, the answer is, “Because he lives in the time after Jesus left and before He comes back.” Persecution is normal now. It won't be then, but it is now.
When you stop and think, it's a no brainer. Christians belong to a King whose Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). And the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4) in whose power the whole world lies ( I John 5:19), is the arch enemy of our King! So we live in enemy territory, making no attempt to hide our loyalty to our King. We our behind enemy lines without camouflage. That's all going to change, but not until our King returns.
Persecution is normal now. No amount of praying or wishing will change that. As a matter of fact, the only way to change it is to choose unfaithfulness. We can avoid persecution only by doing our best to fit in to our world.
So if persecution is normal now, what else is normal?
Weeds and painful childbirth.
And if we broaden it, viruses and bacteria, and all kinds of bad pathogens. The earth is not the way it was when it was first created. It is perverted, and it will be; also until our King returns.
No amount of praying or wishing will change this either. We are going to have to fight weeds and flues, and colds, and cancers until Jesus returns. God may intervene and heal some miraculously, or even raise the dead, but even they will get sick again and die.
And it doesn't end there.
The curse has also ruined or damaged all relationships. So we will fight tension and pain in our relationships. Simply put, we will not experience the joy of a relationship untainted by sin, this side of glory. Sometimes the pain of this will be minor, and sometimes excruciating, but never will it be absent. The gospel and the Spirit give us tools to keep the pain from reigning, but not to keep it from coming.
And there is more.
A few years ago, I learned a new four letter word. The word “surd.” As in “surd evil.” That's the evil of nature turned against itself. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, and tsunamis all fit here. So if you belong to the King, and your house is in the path of a hurricane. Guess what! It's not going to be fun. For you, or for your neighbors. You have an anchor that they may not have, and you ought not rest in your possessions as they might, but your property will be be assailed as theirs is, and you will need to clean up and repair just as they do, and you will lose things precious to you, just as they do.
And on top of that...
There are financial failures, market crashes, tragic accidents, and the list goes on and on and on. Simply put, our cursed world has a bent towards disintegration and we live in the middle of it. The question is not if it will impact us, but when and how.
All of this because we live in the time before Jesus returns.
Not to imply that He is disinterested or uninvolved.
Without Him “holding all things together” (Col 1:17), everything would fall apart. My heart and yours would stop beating and we wouldn't be able to take another breath. The earth would stop rotating and fall into the sun. Or, maybe it would rotate erratically and fly off into space. It was chaos (Genesis 1:2) before He created, and without Him, what is left of created order (and most of it is left) would disintegrate again.
Much of His original creation is still ours to enjoy. Sunsets, and sunrises, warm gentle breezes on sunny days, refreshing showers and spring flowers, the warm embrace of our spouses, the smiles and laughter and love of our children – these are all gifts of Him to me and you through creation. Even His most strident enemies live daily in the midst of his graces.
And He is still involved. Miraculous healings, and providential blessings are still normal. Divine interventions are not just a thing of Bible times. They are being recorded around the world today.
But He is still a King whose Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). And the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4) in whose power the whole world lies ( I John 5:19), is still His arch enemy. And the world still lies under the curse ( Genesis 3). Creation longs eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God, when it will be set free from its slavery to corruption. Christians wait eagerly with it. Having the first fruits of the Spirit, we long for our adoption as sons (Romans 8:18-25). “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” (Romans 8:24)
How many times have I mouthed the words, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and not known what I was asking? I've been taking it as a bit of a wistful prayer. “It would sure be nice if the way things go on earth could be a bit more like it is in heaven.”
The rest of the Lord's prayer is realistic. Daily bread is daily bread. Forgiveness of sins, a needed current reality. Protection from temptation and deliverance from evil... Our spiritual lives depend on it . So why would I think that “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” is not a real prayer?
It's simple really. His will is not going to be done on earth as it is in heaven, until His Kingdom comes!
What I can expect in the story that God has written for me is a persistent ache.
Until He comes.