Why Has God Allowed the Righteous to Suffer?
“Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake. Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens; for in that way they persecuted the prophets prior to you.”—Matt. 5:11, 12.
1. (a) What is the Christian’s view toward suffering, and does the end result make suffering any more desirable? (b) What is the principle from which a servant of God cannot deviate?
SERVANTS of God have suffered at the hands of the wicked since the time of Abel. They do not want to suffer. Persecution and torture are just as unpleasant to them as to anyone else of rational mind. They would much rather live in peace. However, the servant of God knows that a certain amount of suffering is unavoidable in this evil world, because of his desire to maintain integrity to God. He is assured, however, that the end result of a life of integrity to God will be an eternally happy one indeed! But knowledge alone of this fact does not make suffering any more pleasant or desirable. In fact, the very undesirability of pain and suffering may cause the servant of God to break integrity, to his eternal regret and loss. Integrity to God, no matter what the cost may be, is a principle from which the servant of God cannot and must not deviate.
2. (a) What is the lot of those who have chosen to serve God faithfully? Give proof. (b) What proves that such persecutions were not justified?
2 The Holy Scriptures and history prove that suffering for integrity’s sake is the lot of those who have chosen to serve God faithfully. The Christian apostle Paul wrote to God-fearing Thessalonians: “Troubles are our lot, you know that well.” (1 Thess. 3:3, Moffatt) From righteous Abel down to the present time that has been the case. Abel was murdered by his brother Cain, because Cain’s “works were wicked, but those of his brother were righteous.” (1 John 3:12) The three Hebrews were tossed into a fiery furnace, because they refused to bow before King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image and thus break integrity to Jehovah their God. Paul tells us what happened to others for holding fast integrity: “Yes, others received their trial by mockings and scourgings, indeed, more than that, by bonds and prisons. They were stoned, they were tried, they were sawn asunder, they died by slaughter with the sword, they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, while they were in want, in tribulation, under ill-treatment; and the world was not worthy of them. They wandered about in deserts and mountains and dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb. 11:36-38) They suffered such atrocities because they insisted on keeping integrity to God. The apostle Paul was right: “The world was not worthy of them.”
3, 4. (a) What words of Jesus show that Christians would not fare any better than the Hebrew prophets? (b) What proves that Christians were persecuted?
3 With the advent of Christianity, the servant of God has fared no better. Jesus Christ himself said to his followers: “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20) On another occasion he told them: “People will lay their hands upon you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, you being haled before kings and governors for the sake of my name. It will turn out to you for a witness. . . . Moreover, you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death; and you will be objects of hatred by all people because of my name. And yet not a hair of your heads will by any means perish. By endurance on your part you will acquire your souls.” (Luke 21:12-19) These words found their fulfillment early in the first century.
4 Paul himself admitted that Christians were persecuted and that he himself, as Saul of Tarsus, was one of the persecutors. As recorded at Acts 26:9-11, he said: “I, for one, really thought within myself I ought to commit many acts of opposition against the name of Jesus the Nazarene; which, in fact, I did in Jerusalem, and many of the holy ones I locked up in prisons, as I had received authority from the chief priests; and when they were to be executed, I cast my vote against them. And by punishing them many times in all the synagogues I tried to force them to make a recantation; and since I was extremely mad against them, I went so far as to persecuting them even in outside cities.”
5. (a) What did Paul say would be the lot of those who desired to live with godly devotion in association with Christ? (b) How did early Christians look upon persecution? (c) What questions present themselves?
5 Later when Saul of Tarsus became the Christian apostle Paul he in turn suffered persecution at the very hands of those whom he once served. As a Christian he wrote to Timothy: “All those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12) To the Philippians he said: “To you the privilege was given in behalf of Christ, not only to put your faith in him, but also to suffer in his behalf.” (Phil. 1:29) Early Christians not only were persecuted for their faith, but considered it a privilege to suffer for Christ, according to Paul. Do you feel the same way? Are you willing to suffer, yes, die for what you believe about Christ? Why should one suffer at all? Why does God allow his people to be persecuted? What good purpose does persecution serve, if any?
6, 7. (a) Does persecution serve a worthy purpose, and is God responsible for the suffering of his people? Illustrate. (b) How is God proved blameless?
6 In the first place, let it be noted that God’s permitting of persecution does serve a worthy purpose; and, secondly, that God is not to blame for the suffering of his people, because persecution is due to the entrance of sin into the world of mankind. (Rom. 5:12) This can be illustrated in the following way: When a boy breaks his leg while doing something his father told him to do for him, certainly the father is not to blame. When the boy’s physician father comes home to set the broken limb, he may tell his son: ‘This will hurt you, but in time the limb will heal and your leg will be as good as new. You will not be a cripple because I was too tender to take care of you in your hour of need.’ As the father sets them in place, the bones grate and crack. The child screams and pleads with his father because of the pain, but the father holds firm until the operation is completed. He disregards the child’s outcries and entreaties, not because he does not care for him, but because he does care for him. Something similar happened in the beginning in the relationship between man and his God.
7 When the first human pair, Adam and Eve, willfully disobeyed God’s law, they fatally injured themselves. God expelled the rebellious couple from Eden. They thus lost for themselves and their descendants the special protection and blessing of their Creator. For the effects of sin, namely, pain, sorrow and death, they had only themselves to blame, as the Bible states: “They have acted ruinously on their own part; they are not his children, the defect is their own.” (Deut. 32:5; Rom. 6:23) God immediately, however, made arrangements to repair the fracture. Through Christ Jesus he made a way possible for man to gain everlasting life on a paradise earth—the very prospect opened to Adam in Eden.—John 3:16; Rev. 21:4.
8, 9. (a) Why has God allowed the wicked to persecute the righteous? (b) What is established in the book of Job?
8 But not all pain is the result of internal imperfection stemming from Adamic sin. God’s servants suffer greatly from external abuse heaped upon them by wicked persecutors. Why has God allowed this to happen? The answer lies in a moral issue that was raised in Eden by Satan the Devil, the rebel angel that caused Adam and Eve to sin. The issue involves the integrity of man toward God and his Word. This is shown in the case of righteous Job. Satan boasted that he could turn all men away from God, even as he did Adam and Eve. Yes, he could turn away even the one of whom God would say: “There is no one like him in the earth,” namely, the patriarch Job.—Job 1:8.
9 At a meeting of the angelic sons of God in heaven Jehovah asked Satan: “Have you set your heart upon my servant Job, that there is no one like him in the earth, a man blameless and upright, fearing God and turning aside from bad?” The fact that God called Job’s faithfulness to Satan’s attention indicates there was a contention as to whether human creatures would keep integrity to God. Satan’s reply proves that there was such an issue, for right away he made excuses for Job’s faithfulness. He asserted that Job served God because of the material blessings received and not because he loved Him. He suggested: “‘For a change, thrust out your hand, please, and touch everything he has and see whether he will not curse you to your very face.’ Accordingly Jehovah said to Satan: ‘Look! Everything that he has is in your hand. Only against him himself do not thrust out your hand!’”—Job 1:7-12.
10. Job’s maintaining integrity proved what? And what questions arise?
10 Job maintained a righteous course despite everything the Devil could do; he proved that he served God because he loved him and wanted to be pleasing in his sight. Job believed in the integrity of his course, and so proclaimed to his accusers: “Until I expire I shall not take away my integrity from myself!” (Job 27:5) Integrity to the sovereignty of God and to his righteous principles as expressed in his inspired Word is what the present struggle against the servants of God is all about. That is why righteous men from Abel down to the present time have preferred to die rather than to break integrity to their God Jehovah. They believe in the righteousness of God and his Word and would prefer to die rather than to break that confidence. But where do you stand in this issue? Are you prepared to die for the sovereignty of God and his Word? How you face this issue will determine eventually whether you will live or die. It is as important as that.
EARLY CHRISTIANS WERE TRIED
11. (a) What proves that the issue of integrity was in force in Jesus’ day? (b) Jesus’ steadfastness proved what and provided what?
11 When Jesus Christ was on earth, Satan desperately tried to get Jesus to do just one act of worship that would be a breach of integrity to God. (Matt. 4:8-11) Even when slapped around by Roman soldier guards and then nailed to the torture stake to die, Jesus held fast his integrity. The Devil tried his best, but he could not induce Jesus to become disloyal to God. (Phil. 2:8) By Jesus’ maintaining integrity as a perfect man, he established for all time that Satan’s boast that he could turn all men away from God is a lie. Jesus thus set a perfect example of integrity-keeping for his followers to imitate.—1 Pet. 2:21.
12-14. (a) Were the followers of Christ excluded from trials? (b) What did Paul have to say about his maintaining integrity? (c) What did Dr. Mosheim have to say about Christians following Paul’s time?
12 The followers of Christ were not spared from trials of integrity-keeping even while Jesus was alive. Peter was told by Christ: “Simon, Simon, look! Satan has demanded to have you men to sift you as wheat. But I have made supplication for you that your faith may not give out; and you, when once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” Then confident Peter said to Jesus: “Lord, I am ready to go with you both into prison and into death.” But Jesus knew Peter better: “I tell you, Peter, A cock will not crow today until you have three times denied knowing me.” (Luke 22:31-34) The Master was right. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Peter wept bitterly for failing in integrity at such a crucial time. But he recovered his spirituality to become an encouragement and a tower of strength to his brothers. His two letters (First and Second Peter) testify to that fact.
13 Paul, too, was sifted by the Devil and his agents. He faced false apostles, deceitful workers who transformed themselves into apostles of Christ. Paul tells what he endured in the Christian ministry. He writes: “In labors [as a minister] more plentifully, in prisons more plentifully, in blows to an excess, in near-deaths often. By Jews I five times received forty strokes less one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I experienced shipwreck, a night and a day I have spent in the deep; in journeys often, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from highwaymen, in dangers from my own race, in dangers from the nations, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers among false brothers, in labor and toil, in sleepless nights often, in hunger and thirst, in abstinence from food many times, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things of an external kind, there is what rushes in on me from day to day, the anxiety for all the congregations.” (2 Cor. 11:21-28) The way of Christian integrity was not an easy course for Paul, neither is it today. In fact, Paul warned Christians: “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12) Remember, Judas and Demas and others who once stood rather firmly but fell.—2 Tim. 4:10.
14 After Paul’s time, persecution continued against the Christians, even though they were peace-loving people. Dr. John L. von Mosheim, writer of ecclesiastical history, refers to the first-century Christians as “a set of men of the most harmless inoffensive character, who never harboured in their minds a wish or thought inimical to the welfare of the state.” Yet these very Christians suffered indescribably at the hands of the pagan peoples and the Roman state because they insisted on maintaining integrity to God.
INTEGRITY TO GOD STILL AN ISSUE
15. Of all the religious groups, who today suffer similarly for integrity to Christian principles? Give proof.
15 Of all the religious groups in the world Jehovah’s witnesses are the ones most widely criticized for their faith and for their integrity to Christian principles. And because of their stand they sometimes have found themselves in courtrooms and in prisons, as was the case with the early Christians. A professor of history stated: “Perhaps the most notable thing about the Witnesses is their insistence upon their primary allegiance to God, before any other power in the world.” (These Also Believe) The result is, as stated by the Akron, Ohio, Beacon Journal: “Jehovah’s Witnesses have a religion they take far more seriously than the great majority of people. Their principles remind us of the early Christians who were so unpopular and who were persecuted so brutally by the Romans.”
16, 17. (a) Why are Jehovah’s witnesses persecuted today? (b) What is their stand toward the political world, and what indignities did they have to suffer because of this?
16 The early Christians were often persecuted because they refused to perform a simple patriotic rite: sacrificing to the emperor. Those Christians regarded such a rite as idolatry. Jesus also refused to do a single act of worship that was contrary to God’s Word. (Matt. 4:9) Similarly Jehovah’s witnesses give their worship and allegiance only to God. Like the early Christians, they live quiet, moral, indeed, model lives. Also like the early Christians, they refuse to idolize the state. As ministers of God and ambassadors for God’s kingdom, Jehovah’s witnesses do not salute the flag of any nation; yet they show respect for the flag of the country in which they live by obeying all laws that do not conflict with God’s laws. Saluting the flag is considered by the Witnesses to be a religious act in which they cannot conscientiously participate. They view the act to be a violation of the Second Commandment and of Christian Scriptures warning against idolatry. (Ex. 20:4, 5; 1 John 5:21) While their stand against idolatry is little understood, still they consider it important enough to view it to be one of life or death. Their stand is like that of Peter and the other apostles who said: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
17 Jesus declared his people were “no part of the world,” just as he was no part of the world. (John 17:16) Like those first Christians, Jehovah’s witnesses are no part of the world; hence, when it comes to this world’s politics and wars, their stand is one of strict neutrality. This has resulted in persecution, such as in Nazi Germany, where thousands of Witnesses were thrown into Hitler’s concentration camps. As Saul of Tarsus tried to force the early Christians to make a recantation of their faith, Hitler endeavored to do the same thing by trying to get Jehovah’s witnesses to sign their names to a piece of paper renouncing their faith, which they boldly refused to do. Other nations more recently have tried to get them to carry political cards in violation of their Christian neutrality and conscience, which they steadfastly refused to do. For this they have suffered the severest persecution, but as a people they have not broken integrity to God.
18, 19. (a) What is their stand in Communist lands? (b) How have they fared in some of the emerging nations of Africa? What has been the result?
18 Today, because of their neutrality and their uncompromising stand for Christian principles, Jehovah’s witnesses in Communist lands and in non-Communist lands are often imprisoned. In Communist Poland, for instance, at the trial of one of the Witnesses, the prosecuting attorney made this statement: “Jehovah’s witnesses undermine the present social order. They do not go to the polls, refuse to salute the flag and do not serve in the army. Jehovah’s witnesses upset the present order just as much as the first Christians did. The Roman emperor could not suffer it and so Jehovah’s witnesses today cannot be tolerated either.” In substance his complaint was that these people are intolerable because they keep the law of God.
19 In lands supposedly guaranteeing the right to worship God freely, Jehovah’s witnesses have been deprived of those very rights. They are banned in Red China. They are banned in Russia and in all Communist-dominated countries. Some of the emerging nations of Africa have shamefully persecuted Jehovah’s witnesses because of their Christian neutrality. But even in these lands the worship of God flourishes despite persecution.
SUFFERING SOON TO END
20. What are the determination and conviction of Jehovah’s witnesses?
20 Notwithstanding the persecution leveled against them, Jehovah’s witnesses, no matter where they live in the world, are determined to be men of peace. In them Isaiah’s prophecy already has had fulfillment. They have beaten their “swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. . . . neither will they learn war anymore.” (Isa. 2:4) They trust that Jehovah God will soon bring a speedy end to all wickedness in his war of Armageddon. (Rev. 16:13-16) They are confident that God’s love will stand vindicated. They are convinced that the issue of universal sovereignty and the truthfulness of God’s Word will be settled for all time to the satisfaction of all who live in the universe. That is why Jehovah’s witnesses are fully persuaded that the permission of evil and of persecution has served a worthy purpose resulting in the vindication of God’s Word and name.
21. What has the permission of wickedness established?
21 The time allotted by God for wickedness to run its course has been sufficient for the wicked to demonstrate their evil intentions, to “fill up the measure of their sins.” (1 Thess. 2:16) It has underscored God’s Word as true that the existing systems in the world are cruel and heartless and are not worthy of existence. Their very corruptness and ineptness demand that God justly judge and destroy them. And with that judgment all those who love righteousness will rejoice!—1 Pet. 4:15-19.
22. What purpose has persecution served, and what question remains to be answered?
22 Persecution also has afforded all men the opportunity to show themselves for what they truly are, whether they are believers in God and his Word the Bible. For by the way men and nations have ruled and have treated the people of God, they have indelibly stamped themselves as for or against God. (Matt. 25:40, 45) Persecution has established beyond doubt that God is love and that he is patient with mankind and does not wish that any be destroyed but that “all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Tim. 2:3, 4) Persecution also proves that Christians are lovers of mankind by their suffering of evil to bring this message of salvation to them. The only remaining question is this: On whose side of the issue will you be when God finally brings the struggle to a dramatic close in the battle of Armageddon now drawing near? Will you be found an integrity-keeper? Concern yourself with that question now, because your eternal destiny depends on it.
[Picture on page 489]
Early Christians were persecuted because of refusal to perform a patriotic rite: burning incense to the emperor. True Christians today also avoid all acts of idolatry