In 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, St. Paul the Apostle shared with the Christians and the Church in Rome about how he was mistreated and suffered persecution. He was comparing his suffering with the Christians who gloried in their power and strength. It’s a very stark comparison.
For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.
We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!
We are weak, but you are strong!
You are honored, we are dishonored!
To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands.
When we are cursed, we bless;
when we are persecuted, we endure it;
when we are slandered, we answer kindly.
We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
What ought to be the norm in Christianity? Is it suffering or is it strength? In Paul’s days, it was suffering and persecution. Today in the west, the norm is to choose vain human glory and power as if it were a human right. Today, in places like the Middle East, Christians are suffering greater persecution at the hands of radical Muslim terrorists like ISIL, Al Qaeda, etc.
How do we reconcile the injustice inflicted upon the millions of Christians this century? We cannot ignore the injustice. We must deal with it in the right way, otherwise, we could end-up with another catastrophic world war, or chemical/nuclear self-annihilation via Mutual Assured Destruction. Decades ago, it was the Cold War. Today, it’s radical Jihadist Islam bent on creating a worldwide caliphate vs the non-Islamic world that will never relent to an Islamic caliphate. Is human rights and justice the true answer?
A rights-oriented society likes to talk about justice in terms of human rights. However, did St. Paul the apostle ever once talk about human rights? I do not recall this ever mentioned in his epistles. Rights was not in his religious vocabulary. Rights, as we know it today, is actually a recent human invention since the Enlightenment Period. It has been engraved with human words in the constitutional frameworks of American and French political lawmakers (e.g., U.S. Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens).
The downside and weakness of trying to fight for justice using a framework of human rights is that it can be abused. Human beings have the potential to argue for unlimited types and levels of rights and still consequentially end-up with the likes of Stalin, Pol Pot, Darth Vadar, and The Punisher.
Example: 1) animal rights rather than the utilitarian good of humankind; 2) economic rights for human subsistence, which leads to Marxism/Communism with its horrific ideological means to an end-type of destruction; 3) rights of women for control over their bodies to decide whether to abort unborn babies; 4) rights of persons to choose to suicide; and the list can go on.
What does the bible say about these issues? Just for starters, Genesis speaks of created world where we care for God’s creation within God’s dominion rather than environmental justice. Jesus and the New Testament speak of sharing and giving to the poor and less-privileged rather than Marxism/Communism. The bible throughout speaks of the sanctity of human life rather than taking away life.
The Gospel of Christ shows the church and the world that God desires to redeem what we have destroyed and twisted. Humanity has a way of manipulating love to seek out one’s selfish interests in the name of caring for one another. However, the Gospel, whether in the Old or New Testaments, show us God’s redemption of a sin-filled world.
Hope is not lost. God still has the ability and power to turn our evil into good but in order for this to happen, we need to confess our sins and seek reconciliation. We fear confession because there are repercussions to revealing our human wrongs, which may cause even more repercussions (e.g., in Canada, we have harmed the First Nations peoples. In the U.S., we have abused African-Americans through slavery. In our established churches, we have sexually-abused children). We want to avoid opening up a can of worms for fear of being levied even greater penalties for our past sins. Denominations, businesses, and nations can go bankrupt from paying endless penalties due to retributive and distributive justice in the courts’ justice system. We need to get past this fear because in God’s love, we have no fear.
There is still good news for all people; however, it’s too bad the world is not able to see this. It is seen with spiritual eyes because God’s redemption comes in a form of weakness. It is far from glorious according to the world’s standards. It is hidden in the form of our suffering and our weakness, but behind it, is God’s power to restore the nations.
The Apostle Paul exemplified this in his above statement to the Roman Christians here in 1 Corinthians 4. Paul’s way of the cross is not worldly but it is deeply spiritual. Paul’s theology and spirituality is not the most popular because it is contrarian. Our human temptation is to trust in our own power and strength to destroy or over-power our opposition or weaker party.
Paul’s theology and spirituality is to trust in God’s power to redeem and restore what was lost due to our human evil and sin. It takes faith and trust, and also patience to wait-out and see the results. This is why I stated that this can only be seen with spiritual eyes; in other words, it happens in God’s timing using God’s means and methods–rather than our human timing, means and methods.
May our world come to a deeper spiritual understanding of how God works in this world. May we be truly enlightened by God’s Holy Spirit and words to follow a path shown by God’s love in his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. It is a path towards God’s righteousness and true justice.