“In this world you have affliction” John 16:33
If you knew the whole picture, you might change your mind.
Christianity as commonly presented in the Western world is a religion of reward. We hear about the blessings of being a Christian. We are exhorted to enter into the abundant life, to experience God’s gracious provision, to be successful examples of purposeful living. We parade our own versions of celebrities before fawning audiences. Admired, powerful, important, perhaps wealthy, we hold these men and women up as shining symbols of the full Christian life. Now, I ask you, who wouldn’t want to be a Christian like that? All that life has to offer here. Then you die and get even more in heaven.
But this doesn’t seem to be Jesus’ point of view.
“In this world you have thlipsis“, says Jesus. The Greek word means crushing, back breaking, heart stopping affliction. It’s trouble with a capital T. It’s the squeeze when you are caught in the vise grip of circumstances that don’t go your way. Thlipsis is a scary word. It brings on images of pressure, evils, distress and calamity. It’s the boxed in, no exit loss that Job knew only too well. Jesus says that you (plural – meaning all of his followers) are going to have the privilege of experiencing Job’s encounter with the devil. As a follower of the Way, you are in for the ride of your life – and it’s not going to be fun and games. Remember what Jesus said to Peter. “Satan has asked permission to sift you like wheat.” That is not good news.
Please notice that Jesus does not say, “Some of you will have a few hard times”. Notice that Jesus considers thlipsis to be the inevitable consequence of discipleship. This is not optional. It is to be expected. If you are following Him, you are at war with the world and the world will come after you with all that it can muster. Don’t spiritualize this. Jesus doesn’t say that you will have spiritual persecution. He doesn’t restrict the agony to just being religiously mistreated. The world is your enemy and it will use anything possible to break your hold on God’s way of life. Just ask Job.
This is not the “gospel” we hear from pulpits today. No wonder. Who would sign up for a life of hardship and crushing distress? Most pastors are quite aware of the detrimental effect that such teaching would have on attendance. So, we give the more accommodating version, the one where being a Christian is really nothing more than a better plan for personal success and happiness. We preach the gospel of the really good news – you can have God’s help to make everything fabulous. Just settle the eternity issue and let God give you the life you always wanted here and now.
Of course, Jesus’ point of view is shocking. You were not designed for satisfaction here and now. This world is not the place where you will find your true destiny. As James Bond said, “The world is not enough.” God made you for eternal purposes. If you fix your attention on fulfillment here and now, you never understood the paradigm. If you thought that God would reshape a world antagonistic to His holiness so that you would discover tranquility and success on this side of the grave, you have been duped. The world is your enemy. Did you imagine that the enemy would grant you God’s desires?
Jesus’ point of view is radically different. In this world, in the world at war with God, you are going to be treated like an enemy combatant. You can expect to be shot at, ambushed, betrayed, bombed, strafed, wounded and blitzed. That’s what it means to be at war. Whenever you discover that you have set your agenda on finding a nice peaceful hide-away in this world, you are moving across enemy lines. God is not interested in making peace with the world. If you live with the goal of finding peace and harmony in this world, you are not on the track God is taking. If all you want is “a little peace of mind” (thank you, John and Paul), then your attempt to find inner tranquility will only be one more stop on the journey to emptiness. God designed you for deliberate holy restlessness. Only He can fill the bill. And if you thought that His intention was to give you heaven on earth, you never understood what heaven really is.
Wait! Don’t despair! Jesus has one more vital piece of intelligence to offer you in this battle. He has overcome the world! It is not possible to escape thlipsis – crushing affliction – in this world, but it is absolutely certain that you can have peace in the midst of the battle. Jesus promises peace. Why? Because the world has been defeated. Jesus has overcome the world. It is no longer the last word on the subject. It will no longer hold its prisoners captive. No matter how bloodied you are in this battle, you win. Even if you die, you win! Nothing can prevent you from reaching your God-determined destiny and purpose because He will gather you to Himself after the battle is done. You will find your reward, not here, not now, but with Him.
Shift! Stop being seduced by the false gospel of earthly gain. Take up your armor and fight! This world is not your home.