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~ Fair Treatment Questions ~

        Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Jesus to the Communist World (now The Voice of the Martyrs), endured fourteen years of suffering and torture in Romanian prisons. His wife, Sabina, survived through three years. The present director of this courageous ministry, Tom White, suffered one and a half years of a twenty-four year sentence in Cuba for distribution of Christian literature.

        Why did Pastor Wurmbrand suffer so many more years than the others? Could not God accomplish His intentions in Wurmbrand in ten years instead of fourteen? Why not in five years? White, who replaced Wurmbrand as director of The Voice of the Martyrs, was released in less then two out of a twenty-four year sentence. Yes, the cultural milieu, the times, the governments, the response of Christians in free nations, etc., were different for these two saints as they are for the hundreds of thousands still in prison, in the underground church, in the grips of horrendous persecution. But let us resist the temptation to explain their different fates in terms of politics and geography, which only leaves the Almighty Lord out of the equation, the One Who is able to deliver anyone from any affliction or persecution with a word.

        These Weekly Reflections are written about three weeks before publication. All the above was written early in the morning of September 11. When news came of the terrorist attack on the US, I stopped writing. I am now continuing this Reflection five days later. Today, and when you read this, more questions abound. The basic ones are repeated the most: "How can God allow this? Where is God now?"  King David, in his anguish, asks the same thing in different words: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1, NIV) Being made sin for us, Jesus, in His embodiment of our sins and despair, as one of us, quoted the same verse of the Psalms as He hung on the cross. He was lamenting with us, as many of us have asked the same question in our time of suffering. However, as our mouths cry this question, our hearts know we can feel forsaken while we also know we truly haven't.

        Yet we must not stop at verse one. David continues his lamentation right into the answer his heart knew all the while: "Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? …Yet you are enthroned as the Holy one; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved" (Psalm 1b, 3-5a, NIV)

        This is a communal prayer, however. A previous Weekly Reflection addressed the issue of communal and personal relationships to our God (click on the link below this reflection, "Weekly Reflections Listing"). "Why me?" needs a different answer than "Why us?" This circles back to the beginning of this Reflection as well as, now, incorporating the evil devastation of terrorism our nation is suffering as a community and as individuals.

        King David is personal and honest in Psalm 6: "Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long? … Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping…The Lord accepts my prayer."  In Psalm 4, David boldly prays, "Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God…How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? ... In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent…You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety."

        These prayers that shift from anguish and challenge to praise and peace arise from the intimacy of one's relationship with God, our Abba. In Psalm 25:14, David writes, "The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them." Unfortunately, the rest of us will just have to guess. In his great suffering, Job was guessing. He was so weary of guessing about God's covenant with him, Job sorrowfully lamented, "Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God's intimate friendship blessed my house (Job 29:4, NIV). St. Paul continually prayed for "God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding" (Colossians 1:9b, NIV).

        Covenants between God and communities and individuals are quite different. Communal covenants are easy to discern. They are found in the Scriptures and declared by prophets and teachers. Discerning individual covenants and God's will require intimacy, cultivated through prayer, fasting, contemplation, carrying our crosses and crucifying our egos on the Cross of Christ.
        St. Matthew (20:1-16) relates a parable of Jesus describing what the kingdom of heaven is like. A landowner hired harvest workers at various times during the day. Each were content with their individual contract or "covenant" with their employer, until pay time when they had the opportunity to compare contracts. The ones who worked part of the day were paid the same as those who labored the full day and the latter complained. The landowner's response was that they all agreed on the contracts he made with them individually and were happy, until they started comparing. He maintained his right to negotiate individually and that he was not obligated to explain the terms between he and one man with the others.

        As parents, we do the same with our children who are guardians of fairness. An older, more mature sibling is permitted a privilege or freedom or is disciplined in a certain way and the younger sibling cries, "That's not fair! Why does he get to stay up later than me?"  or  "Why does she get less time in her room than me?" The parents may reassure the child of their love and try to offer their reasons. The child may still not understand and harbor the questions of why the different treatment. But we know that, based upon many factors, the parents have differing covenants, understandings and relationships with their individual children within their same agape love for all of them.

        Interesting, Jesus sternly deals with Peter on the same issue. Jesus told Peter about the apostle's future and how he would die "by which Peter would glorify God."  Peter noticed the apostle John behind them and asked, "Lord, what about him?" "Jesus answered, `If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me`" (John 21:22, NIV). The gospel makes a point to affirm that Jesus was not saying John would not die (v. 23). As was the custom of Jesus, He used hyperbole or exaggeration to drive a point. Peter was eventually crucified (upside down) and John died a peaceful death in his old years. Jesus didn't explain why, but reminded Peter of his covenant: "You must follow me."
        That's the answer from Christ to me. It is not for me to know why one saint dies in prison after twenty years of tremendous suffering while another is released into a life of prosperity after one year. As Jesus said, what is that to me? I am just a spiritual child. My personal covenant with Christ is different than Pastor Wurmbrand's or Pastor Popov's or yours. The "why" for Wurmbrand or Popov is between each of them and Christ. What is that to me? Within my intimacy with and in Christ; I am able to ask why about myself and He continues to answer, and I continue to follow.

        I feel unburdened by the many "why" questions in the lives of others. The "whys?" in my life are revealed to me as I search God's will, and "The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him" (2 Chronicles 16:9a, NIV). I can comfort others, grieve with them, share their sufferings and hopes, pray with them, encourage them with biblical principles regarding learning the why answers in their intimacy with God. I will not, however, join in the arrogance of Job's friends, who went on and on discussing the why questions about Job's suffering, at God's angry disapproval. Even the often quoted remark of Job, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away" (Job 1:21b) is not true. In Job's case, the Lord did give and evil (Satan) did the taking. Later, the Lord did the restoring and giving again, including answers to Job, and his well meaning but very mistaken friends, about His personal covenants and relationship with each of them.

        In my various circumstances, struggles and pain, when I am just beginning to look around and think, "What about them, Lord?" I hear Jesus saying, "What is that to you? You just follow me." And when I am joyful and flooded with gratitude for His blessings, I find myself asking, "And why not them, too, Lord?" His answer is the same. But He also adds, "Love them, your neighbors and enemies, in the way I love you." I certainly don't ask why anymore about others. I just keep following Him and listening to His answers about the whys in my life.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Weekly Reflections © September 22, 2001

"God's Word" is a copyrighted work of God's Word to the Nations Bible Society. Quotations are used by permission.

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