In Pilgrim’s Progress, Apollyon stops Christian and seeks to turn him aside from the way. One argument which Apollyon presses is the sheer difficulty of seeking to follow after Christ in this world,
Consider again, when thou art in cool blood, what thou art like to meet with in the way that thou goest. Thou knowest that for the most part his servants come to an ill end, because they are transgressors against me and my ways. How many of them have been put to shameful deaths! And besides, thou countest his service better than mine; whereas he never yet came from the place where he is, to deliver any that served him out of their enemies’ hands: but as for me, how many times, as all the world very well knows, have I delivered, either by power or fraud, those that have faithfully served me, from him and his, though taken by them! And so will I deliver thee.
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come. As Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation.” John 16:33.
The Beatitudes which begin the Sermon on the Mount list out poor of spirit, mourning, meekness, hungering and thirsting (after righteousness), showing mercy and making peace, capped with two promises of persecution: first to the first persecuted, then he shifts and says “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
The Church is sent out as lambs among wolves. And, this side of the age to come, there is little promise of respite.However, there is a comfort in all of this.
There are two evils which come from trouble: first there is the trouble itself, second there is the response to the trouble. We can do very little with the first trouble: the world is cursed and a grave stands at the end of every life. For those who seek to follow Christ, there is often an extra measure of trouble. These troubles are largely unavoidable.
But the second trouble comes from how we think about the first.
We have many difficulties which we undertake willingly to bring about a better end. A joint replacement surgery is quite painful (from what is reported), but the end result is worth the pain. Therefore, the pain is not experienced as an unmitigated tragedy, but as a moment to be endured for a better end. We encourage children with school by pointing to the good of an education. Athletes undergo great privation to compete.
This evil which comes from the response to the unavoidable trials of life brings the greatest pain and sorrow. When we look through the first trial to see the end, we can persevere and endure. We are commend to look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross”. Jesus lived through the cross for the good that would result.
It is hope which makes helps us to endure sorrow. We can afford to mourn, for we shall be comforted. We can afford the cost of showing mercy and making peace, because we shall receive mercy and be brought into God’s family. This will require hope and expectation and patience. But our hope and patience will be well rewarded.