Saturday, 19 December 2015

A theology of suffering.... ?

I'm trying to understand why the church is the shapes it is in the present, and particularly get to grips with the early church and how it wandered from being Spirit-filled and apostolically led to becoming a religio-political instrument that didn't reflect new testament values.

And reading that last sentence back makes me wonder if I have become what I rejected so hard as a fundamentalist.


Various translations of Eusebius history of the early church are available free of charge through the Kobo book store, and it seemed daft not to take advantage, especially since the latest updates to the software has made the reader far more useful and responsive than it ever was before.

Some of it is, frankly, as dull as ditchwater. Some demonstrates that the behaviour we see on facebook is common human nature, indulged in by people at every level including appointed bishops in the church, spreading lies and stories (calumnies) about each other. Some demonstrates that discipleship does not, in fact, reproduce after the discipler but in fact seems to easily give rise to all kinds of intentional heresies and false teachings.

That's not really what I want to mention.

There's quite a bit on martyrs, which is not surprising given how severely the early church was persecuted, but the descriptions of persecutions in Lyons and Vienna around AD180 have, at least partially, kept me awake tonight. It's hard to imagine how people could live through, let alone continue to testify to their faith after being tortured and made to suffer as many of them were - the Romans really make ISIS look like a bunch of schoolboys. And the church, faced with such utter awfulness, had a theology that declared being able to suffer for the name of Jesus was a wonderful thing.

I'm trying to see where this can fit into 21st century western Europe, where any kind of suffering or pain is immediately bad, and every kind of hardship must be relieved (except if you're from a poor people who must supply the wants and needs of us rich ones). The comparison is enough to make me ask if comfort in the way we have it right now is actually wrong at a basic level, and is calculated to produce people addicted inescapably to wealth and more comfort.  I feel the draw myself, the desire for more and more things to enjoy just owning and with which to fill my home, never mind whether they are needed or are ethically produced and sourced.

A nagging question I've had when reading about ISIS and their evils is "what would Paul do?".  I could imagine his first reaction would be to get out there among them, seeing a new and fertile ground in which to plant a church and disregarding the risks for the sake of growing the kingdom of God. To the best of my knowledge there are some Christians out there working among them, but they don't come from the Christian west. Could the western churches embrace a theology of suffering that would enable their best to go out to such places, knowing some at least would die in horrible ways, and seeing that as wonderful instead of earth-shatteringly dreadful?

It also wants to make me ask if such a reaction is right, and if it is, how have we been seduced?

I was gladly radical as a new Christian, happily fundamentalist, certain that as Christians we should expect persecution and hardship. I read a book about a Russian soldier (Vanya) tortured and eventually killed for his faith.  Somehow my theology that recognised Satan at work in people, inspiring and even driving them to do terrible things, has been blurred by the comfortable lifestyle I now have. I wonder if the church is going to have to rediscover a theology of suffering before it can start looking like the body of Jesus again?

Best stop there - it's now 1.53am.

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