Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Filling Up Christ's Afflictions

What does it mean to truly love one’s enemies? A look into the life and story of 20th-century evangelical Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand is a good place to look for insight into the answer to this question. Wurmbrand, the founder of the international ministry Voice of The Martyrs, suffered profoundly for his faith and work as a Christian minister under the repressive communist regime of his Romanian homeland. Beginning in 1948, he was imprisoned for 14 years for his activities as a leader and evangelist in the Underground Church of Romania. In the hands of his captors, Wurmbrand suffered three solid years of solitary confinement and other unimaginable tortures. Released by the communist authorities in 1964, Wurmbrand left Romania and settled in the United States, traveling the world and speaking out on behalf of Christians persecuted in the Communist bloc of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. He tells his story in the profound volume, Tortured for Christ.

Though it has no “literary value,” as Wurmbrand readily admits, Tortured for Christ has been an important book in bringing the plight of persecuted Christian communities to public light in the West, expressing the profound love for Christ, his people, and the world that motivates Christians to suffer for their faith, and mustering support for those suffering persecution.

I think Wurmbrand’s story is particularly pertinent considering that at the current time over 200 million Christians are suffering some form of discrimination or persecution worldwide and that during the century we have just come out of 50 million Christians died for their faith in Jesus Christ, a figure that accounts for 65% of the martyrs in the 2000 years of the Christian Church’s existence! At such a time in history, Christians need to have a strong sense of the message of love they have for those who hate them and the God they serve. For those of us who live in historically Christian cultures and societies, we must look to the experience and message of those who have suffered profoundly for their faith in order to express the depths of God’s love for humanity to our societies, where opposition to Christian claims is only growing.

I bring this anecdote from Tortured for Christ to show the power of Christ’s witness through his suffering Body to reach the enemies of God and humanity with his love. In the experience of Wurmbrand and fellow members of the Underground Church imprisoned for their work for the Gospel, suffering at the hands of the Communists became their most powerful means of reaching them with God’s love. Wurmbrand recounts the martyrdom of Grecu, beaten slowly to death over the course of two weeks under the leadership of an official named Reck, to illustrate the redemptive power of Christian suffering:

During the beatings, Reck said something to Grecu that the Communists often said to Christians, “You know, I am God. I have power of life and death over you. The one who is in heaven cannot decide to keep you in life. Everything depends on me. If I wish, you live. If I wish, you are killed. I am God!” So he mocked the Christian.

Brother Grecu, in his horrible situation, gave Reck a very interesting answer, which I heard afterward from Reck himself. He said, “You don’t know what a deep thing you’ve said. Every caterpillar is in reality a butterfly, if it develops rightly. You have not been created to be a torturer, a man who kills. You have been created to become like God, with the life of the Godhead in your heart. Many who have become persecutors like you, have come to realize—like the apostle Paul—that it is shameful for a man to commit atrocities, that they can do much better things. So they have become partakers of the divine nature. Jesus said to the Jews of His time, ’Ye are gods.’ Believe me, Mr. Reck, your real calling is to be Godlike—to have the character of God, not a torturer.”

At that moment Reck did not pay much attention to the words of his victim, as Saul of Tarsus did not pay attention to the beautiful witness of Stephen being killed in his presence. But those words worked in his heart. And Reck later understood that this was his real calling. (42)

To love one’s enemies is to return blessing for their cursing, to take their reviling and torture, and instead of following in their steps by deforming the image of God in humanity through hatred, to unite those sufferings to Christ and by them appeal to the tormentors to be reconciled to God. As Grecu’s story indicates, God uses such appeals to break the most hardened of hearts and renew the image of God in the most depraved of sinners.

Persecutions and sufferings will come, but Christ is redeeming the world through the sufferings of the persecuted. The sufferings of the saints are a massive signboard pointing back to the cross, where Christ’s suffering and death turned to blessing and life for the world. Pray for the persecuted Church. Their love, expressed in so costly a fashion, is our surest testimony that the sacrifice of Christ is healing the world. Indeed, their suffering love is itself a conduit by which that healing Christ has accomplished flows to others, including persecutors. Let us love our persecuted brothers and sisters and support them in their powerful witness to the Christ who is filling up his afflictions for the sake of the Church and the world through them.


Anne said...

For the record, I now "follow" your blog. Most excellent.

Jamie Stober said...

Anne, I am absolutely honored to have you as my first and only follower.