When Things Go Wrong, Why the Surprise?
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Christians today is how surprised many seem to be about how badly things are going in certain parts of the world. They are surprised by the economic hard times, the weird election cycles, the wholesale rejection of Christian values, and the general chaos of world events. The world-wide persecution of Christians is particularly alarming. A fair question might be: Why the surprise? Any serious follower of Jesus should know the current turn of events is not the aberration. Historically speaking, high regard for Christians is the true aberration. Jesus said, “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). Jesus was not exactly well liked. Why should his followers expect to be? Peter said it succinctly: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you … as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet 4:12).
Even a modest recollection of history shows that Jesus followers are often mocked, persecuted, and sometimes martyred. This truth came home to me in a dramatic way a few years ago while traveling through Cappadocia in central Turkey. Cappadocia was home to some of the first Christian converts (Acts 2:9). By the time Peter writes a letter to them just a few years later, they are being maligned and persecuted (1 Pet 1:1, 2:12, 19; 3:13).
But these early disciples persevered well into the 6th century. The evidence of their faith and courage can be found in the modern-day Cappadocia. Cappadocia is noted for having one of the most exotic landscapes on the face of the earth. Volcanoes produced strange rock formations called “fairy chimneys.” Homes, monasteries, and churches were hewn out of the hardened lava deposits. But what is most striking is what can be found below ground. Dozens of ancient underground cities dot the region, some only recently discovered, and most never excavated. The largest, Derinkuyu, was once home to 20,000 or more Christians.
This underground city is like a massive inverted skyscraper reaching eight stories below the surface, complete with homes, stables, schools, churches, wells, storage rooms, wine presses, and baptisteries. As I stood on the grounds of an underground church, and then in the remains of a baptistery, I couldn’t help wondering about the Christians who lived there, enduring the waves of attackers—Persians, Arabs, and Turks—over many years. They had their own 9/11s and Paris attacks to contend with.
I wonder how Peter’s letter to the first Cappadocians might have sounded in their hearts when they heard these words: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.… [and] rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy, when his glory is revealed” (4:8, 13).
As we enter the season of Advent, a season of transcendent hope, it is good to remember where our true security resides. Nations, political movements, national leaders, and economic systems rise and fall. These may appeal for awhile, but ultimately disappoint. Our true hope lies elsewhere. We are called to “Hope in God” (Ps 42:5). As poet Will J. Brand wrote:
Earthly kingdoms rise and fall, Kings and nations come and go, Thou, O God, art over all, None Thine empire shall o’erthrow.
Peter’s words to the Cappadocians remains true today: “Beloved, do not be surprised … as though something strange were happening to you…. Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good” (1 Pet 4:12, 19).