By Elizabeth Prata
On Twitter, an account named @backcreekpastor posted this:
“This sojourn into “online worship” has made me exceedingly glad we will not experience a disembodied eternity.”
Amen to that! A heartening reminder. We will experience the heavenly eternity on a physical world, bodily. All our experiences, emotions, spiritual feelings will be washed through a sinless, glorified BODY. We won’t be floating around on clouds, but instead be fully conscious, sentient, in a body, and worshiping and working (“ruling and reigning”) with Christ, who by the way is also in His body and will be present with us on our home, the New Earth.
It’s good to remember these things these days, for the days are dark and getting darker.
I was born in 1960 and my first memory was of the UK band The Beatles making their musical American TV debut on February 9, 1964 on the popular variety show hosted by Ed Sullivan. I had turned three in December. So from 1964 on, my parents’ television was alive with moving images that impressed themselves into my impressionable brain.
Tinkerbell flying around Cinderella’s Castle on the Wonderful World of Disney in Color (color TV was new then), the Huntley-Brinkley news report, the mournful intonation of Walter Cronkite recounting the dead and injured from the Viet Nam war, and worse images to come.
The Riots at the Democratic convention, batons cracking heads. The Civil Rights movement (and protests). The Feminist Movement (and protests). Fists in air, marches, yelling. And the assassinations! Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald because Oswald allegedly killed President John Kennedy…All these provided a wallpaper to my life that remains indelibly planted on the walls of my brain.
It was supposed to be the decade of love, peace, and Woodstock. Yet it turned into the decade of ferocious unrest, murder, and civil protest. How does this happen? Why? Even this UK history site asks, “Why Were So Many American Political Figures Assassinated in the 1960s?” It was a decade of upheaval and mayhem. I had a clench in my stomach all the time.
I had planned to write something different today, but as I awakened and saw an even further lurch toward this same kind of unrest, mayhem, and murder. I got the same clench in my stomach, that all-too-familiar clench. The age-old battle of satan against God’s plan and His world has revealed itself even more and more as the days go on. As God seems to lift His hand the water around the iceberg recedes and we see more and more of it. Not just the tip any more, but the seamy underbelly.
For months now, experts have been warning Americans about pandemics, death, food lines, Depression, depression, suicide, quarantine, looting, rallies, and an interrupted Presidential election. It’s bound to have an effect. I awoke to this today-
What is in store? What is happening in our society and to believers? I look to the past to see how and why Christian persecution began in the first wave in Nero’s time.
In 64AD, persecution was not empire wide; it was localized, sporadic, often mob-led, with occasional actions from local authorities, writes Earle Cairns in “Christ or Caesar- Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church.” A few main areas of conflict can be seen as events began to percolate and then reach a boiling point.
Christianity and any society’s structure, in this case, Rome, live tenuously and uneasily together. There is ‘a great gulf fixed’ yet they must coexist, intersect, and work cooperatively to make society vigorous. In Rome’s case, a person declaring him or herself a Christian meant a repudiation of everything Roman society valued. Yes, they were tolerant of all religions, but Rome demanded citizens to be preeminently allied with Rome, the State. Rome’s leaders were not just state leaders but were declared gods to whom everyone must worship at some point in the year. Christians could not do that.
In addition, religion in Rome was public. Its tentacles insinuated into every part of cultural and societal life. Festivals and holidays were dedicated to gods. Work life often involved guilds, to which one must belong to get any work, and in which one created many idols or were involved in the process of idolatry in some way. A Christian’s refusal to do any of the above resulted in simmering suspicion. And let’s not forget that Rome’s culture was perverse and getting more so with each passing decade.
Edward Gibbon in his classic Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire, wrote,
By embracing the faith of the Gospel the Christians incurred the supposed guilt of an unnatural and unpardonable offence. They dissolved the sacred ties of custom and education, violated the religious institutions of their country, and presumptuously despised whatever their fathers had believed as true, or had reverenced as sacred.
Further, Gibbon argued that the seeming tendency of Christian converts to renounce their family and country and their frequent predictions of impending disasters instilled a feeling of apprehension in their pagan neighbors.
That apprehension is a raw wound inside every non-believer. We all have within us a knowledge of eternity and God the Creator, but we suppress it in unrighteousness and worship the creation instead. (Romans 1:18-32). When the Gospel is presented, the afterlife is part of the discussion, as is an eternity of punishment for sins against God. The “feeling of apprehension” is stoked and simmering anger boils to the surface at what is so offensive to the hearer.
In Rome, the moment came when Nero, under fire for profligate spending on his intended castle, was accused of burning part of Rome to make way for his building schemes. Seeing an issue with rising unrest pointed at him, he pointed to the Christians. He blamed the believers for the fires. Suspicion, hatred, and disquiet already at a flashpoint, though largely hidden, inflamed into view (the frenzied riot at Ephesus notwithstanding, occurring about 10 years prior to Nero’s blame). The persecutions took off in earnest.
Back to today’s times. The tensions between a Christian subculture and a highly perverted God-hating society such as we have in America, naturally percolates suspicion and hatred. Normally we see only the ‘tip of the iceberg.’ The flashpoint wasn’t much in Ephesus. One man started it, (Demetrius) who brought together a few colleagues, blamed the Christians for their loss of income, and soon the entire city was ravening and rioting. (Acts 19:23-41). When apprehension and fear is rampant, flashpoints bound and it gets easier to blame the Christians.
Our society in America has been under constant barrage of a media reports of fear and death, raising apprehension. The State has oppressed the populace with draconian measures designed to combat a virus. The church seems to be increasingly included in ever more of these draconian measures while other venues are allowed to gather freely. The sins of the nation are rising too, television shows normalizing whoredom (Labor of Love) and the blatant murder of citizens (George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery), perverted story times (Drag Queen Story Hour), abortion (selling baby parts) and much more sparks an equally outraged conservative reaction against these things. Censorship against Christian abounds and is taken as normal by liberals. Flashpoints emerge everywhere.
The President himself is at war with the obvious bias of the media and online media outlets to censor the point of view standing up for family values and other conservative points of view. They are increasingly squashed, and the measures against churches to inhibit the spread of the Gospel (the result of these measures, if not the intended reason) are sparking ever more grinding rubs from the one strata of society to the other.
American society’s apprehension, fear, suppressed truth and rising combat against God, with Christian voices fueling society’s hatred…will it be long before there is a Demetrius to spark a riot against Christians? A Nero to blame Christians for one thing or another? Or will society just take its angst against us for no apparent reason, in order to subside their frantic and rising inner terror?
Not pleasant thoughts, but important to ponder. Many pastors have warned and preached for years that the Bible promises persecution, and not a life of ease. America has long been a bastion. We’re insulated against many of the world’s woes; economic, societal, political. But I personally believe that time is coming to an end. It feels the same as the 1960s, with the upheavals and stomach clenching furor. This essay is about how we believers will respond.
When WWII started in America with Pearl Harbor attack, lots of men signed up to go to war. But if they had been living on a diet of bread and water, they would be malnourished and unready for combat. A few weeks at basic training will not help if the body and mind was not prepared for battle. It is the same with the Christian, except the stakes are higher. Has the believer been feeding on a steady diet of the Word? Have prayed to be close to Jesus and to slay sin? Have encouraged others, gathered faithfully, done all he can as a racer who trains for the race? I haven’t done all those things to the best of my ability, no.
My opinion is that we in these days are watching the crumbling of America. Our society has stood on a foundation filled with holes in the sane for so long, and now it is eroding at a very fast pace. The tide against the rule of law, sanity, and common sense is washing it away. Jesus’ word will always remain, and as the tide flows ever more strongly against us, we need to be strong in standing on the rock to proclaim His glories. Don’t let it wash us, if we are weaklings, away. It feels like the 1960s all over again. I hated the 60s.
But this time though my stomach is clenched and my spirit shrinks from the violence and hatred, an overlay of hope permeates my body. The Spirit in me knows eternity and when I pass, I will too. The sin in me is forgiven, and I have no enmity against God any longer. I have hope and a future. I have understanding of His word. I have my church. I have Jesus. I have all.
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:10b)
I’ve got no particular skill or knowledge in being able to write concisely about entire decades, civilization’s collapse, societal unrest, or the like. I’m just an older woman living in a corner of the South who has seen so much and believes to my inner heart that the end is near. My own end could be near but what I’m speaking of is the end of many of the liberties we experience. The end of Christianity accepted as a healthy art of American life. The end of civility. The end of freedom of speech. The end of normal protections against violence, fraud. The end of government restraint of its desire to gain ever more power. The end of common sense.
As I awoke today it was hard to process the many scenes I saw that slipped through even my restrictive limits of the news I follow. It’s hard to absorb, comprehend. What I do comprehend is Jesus, His love, His justice, His patience, His care. To the Christians under Nero the world turned upside down, and not in the good way of Acts, but in the bad way of deliberate persecution. Is it our time? Maybe so, but soon time will be no more and we will rise to meet Him in the air and all will be well forever.
Meanwhile shine brightly with the glory of His eternal word of comfort and grace, to all that will still listen- and even those who will not.
Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)