I used to double-check my social media posts before hitting the publish button to ensure autocorrect didn’t embarrass me. Now I check to make sure what I wrote won’t get me “canceled.”
Does it seem to you that #Hate is trending, and enemies are materializing out of nowhere, ready to pounce on every word that tumbles out of our mouths—or off our fingertips? One night, I needed a dose of biblical perspective, so I curled up in bed with a sermon on loving your enemies as God does.
I thought I’d drift off to sleep with happy thoughts of loving my enemy. Instead, my mind wrestled with my old sin nature as it rattled on about how Christ asks too much of us and predicted that I’d crumble in the face of persecution. Fortunately, the message silenced my sin nature’s taunts with a new perspective—a joyful perspective.
I fumbled for pen and paper in the dark before the pastor’s statement could escape my sleep-deprived mind: “If you see persecution doing damage to you, you will change your message. If you see persecution adding to your eternal reward, you don’t change anything.”1
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day,and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22–23 emphasis added)
How Do You View Persecution? Damage or Delight?
You may think like I did before the late-night sermon: Of course, persecution does damage! Damage is its goal. I’m pretty sure the prophet Elijah would have agreed as he hid under a lonely juniper tree. (1 Kings 18–19)
Shortly before Elijah cowered under the tree, he’d challenged the 450 prophets of Baal to a Whose-God-Is-Real competition. He soundly defeated them and cut all 450 of them down with a sword. Then he declared to King Ahab an end to the three-year-long drought and bowed himself to God on Mount Carmel. God soon formed rain clouds above them, and Elijah outran King Ahab’s chariot to Jezreel, at which point Queen Jezebel vowed to kill him.
This mighty man of God had performed an array of mighty feats by God’s power. Surely he could shrug off threats by a queen—even an unusually evil one. Yet, in the face of Jezebel’s persecution, Elijah scarpered off into a barren wilderness, hid under a juniper tree, and told God to take his life.
If Elijah could fall into such despair, what chance do we have against persecution?
God’s response reveals the answer. The power that enabled Elijah to destroy God’s enemies is the same power that showered this despondent servant with compassion. God tenderly displayed His kind presence to Elijah’s faith-damaged soul. He fed, strengthened, and comforted Elijah. And then God asked him an important question.
What Are You Doing Here?
After Elijah had rested, he traveled forty days and nights to Mount Horeb, where God spoke to him in a cave.
“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
God’s question cuts deep into my heart since I’m inclined to respond to God like Elijah—with a challenge. Elijah implied he’d been better to God than God had been to him. That he’d destroyed 450 of God’s enemies and in return God had abandoned him to a vicious queen. That he’d faithfully served God, and now God had left Elijah utterly alone.
God answered this unrighteous assessment of God’s actions—or inaction—with a display of power and tenderness. He said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord” (1 Kings 19:11). Then He passed by Elijah. His power echoed through the wind and shattered the rocks around the weary prophet. It shook through the earthquake beneath his feet and lit up the night sky with fire.
God reminded Elijah that all power and authority belong to Him. That He does as He pleases. It pleased Him to come, not in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but in a gentle whisper. To come in grace and tender mercy.
God asked again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
What Are We Doing Here in Our Doubts?
Persecution indeed seeks to do damage. And pain. (I hate pain.) But what are we doing here in our doubts when we have the same merciful God who cared for Elijah? We have the same gracious God who passed by Moses centuries before and proclaimed His name: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6–7).
If God is for us, who can be against us—and win in the end? (Rom. 8:31) Who can stop the Lord’s hand from His good purposes? (Dan. 4:35) As the Lord was with Elijah, He’s with us—our strong Rock and our merciful Redeemer. (Psalm 18:2)
Persecution Transforms Malice into Blessings
It pleased God to crush His Son for our salvation. (Isa. 53:10) Great is His reward—and ours. Christ’s enemies thought they’d won a glorious victory. They didn’t understand that God turns His enemies’ attacks against them. He piles up their sin as added fuel for their eternal judgment if they refuse to repent, and He transforms their malice into perpetual blessings for us, His children. What a glorious truth that no one can truly hurt Christians because God works their evil into good for us. (Rom. 8:28)
As we engage on social media amid cancel culture (a type of persecution, however mild it may be), the joy of eternal rewards is a firm foundation we can stand on as we face the rise in evil. I’m not saying the thought of persecution will never again make my gut feel like I swallowed a rollercoaster. But it may make the ride less terrifying. Maybe even exciting. (I said maybe.)
My prayer is that we’ll hold fast to the biblical perspective of faith and joy in the Lord as we ride out whatever comes. May we never be the Christian who cowers in the corner or whips off her heels and whacks those who dare defame our God—or us. Instead, may we slip on our leap-for-joy pumps and bring glory to God as we trust Him in persecution and amass eternal rewards in heaven.
1 John MacArthur, “Loving Your Enemies as God Does,” Grace to You, March 7, 2021, https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/81-107/loving-your-enemies-as-god-does.