The Price of Glory

Many have looked on suffering—both in the world and in their lives—and concluded that there cannot be a loving, almighty God. Christianity, even while proclaiming that such a God exists, has never shrunk from the reality of suffering—indeed, at its core is a loving, almighty God who does not stand aloof, but who in Christ entered the world and Himself suffered for our sake. In His infinite love, more than anyone else He is able to identify with us in our suffering; in His infinite power, more than anyone else He is able to transform it and us with it.

Christians have suffered persecution for their faith throughout Christian history—from the apostles to those who this very day in various parts of the world have been made to choose between their faith and their lives. One such true story is told in Silence, a recent Martin Scorsese film based on a 1966 book of the same name by Shusaku Endo. In the film, word has reached two young sixteenth-century Catholic priests in Portugal that their mentor, Ferreira, a missionary in Japan, has gone missing. They travel there to find out what has become of him. They discover in Japan a network of Christians hiding from a chieftain they call the Inquisitor, who is striving to destroy what he considers a foreign and dangerous religion. The priests learn that Ferreira was captured by the Inquisitor and forced to watch as his converts were tortured until he eventually renounced his faith; they too are found and subjected to the same torment. The film explores their anguish at this moral dilemma and God’s seeming silence in the midst of their sufferings and desperate prayers.

At times, I wept as I watched. Partly because of the grief of seeing such pain. Partly because of the joy of seeing faith so sincere—the villagers submitted to be tortured, believing Christ when He said that “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”[1] and loving Him more than they loved this world. And I wept partly because I wondered whether, in the pressure of the reality of the moment, I would be willing to give up everything, as they did, to follow Christ.

Take up your cross

As Christians, we strive to be like Christ. Much of what the Bible teaches us to do is framed in reference to Christ’s actions. We love one another because Christ first loved us.[2] We love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, for Christ loved us while we were still sinners and enemies of God.[3] We forgive one another because Christ first forgave us.[4] We serve one another, for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.[5] And, as Christ gave up the riches and splendor of heaven, emptied Himself of His glory, lived the sinless life that we could not and died for us the death that was the wages of our sin—as He took up a cross and died on it for us, He bids us take up our cross.[6] He bids us be ready to give up all to follow Him: our pride, our comfort, our money, perhaps our lives.

We are fortunate that we live in a society in which we do not encounter anything close to the kind of persecution that so many Christians through history have faced. But we still live in a world fundamentally hostile to the message of the gospel and we everyday must make the choice between following Christ and following our passions and the things of this world.

Jesus talked often about the cost of being His disciple. He likened following Him to a person who decided to build a tower. Jesus asked: would not that person first make a budget and determine whether he had the money to complete it? It would be most embarrassing if he had to abandon it unfinished.[7] So it is with those who want to follow Christ. We must count the cost and be ready to surrender all to Him. Otherwise, we may find ourselves like the rich young man who Jesus told to give away his possessions to the poor, that he might have treasures in heaven, and then follow Him. When the man heard this he went away sad, for he was very wealthy.[8] He loved his money more than he loved Jesus. How often, I thought, have I been like that rich young man, holding too tightly to the treasures of this world, things that moth and rust will destroy, instead of striving to store up for myself the imperishable treasures of heaven?[9] How often have I left undone those things I ought to have done and done those things which I ought not to have done?[10]

How often have I wavered before the narrow road that leads to life[11] because it seemed too hard to follow Jesus—when I gave in again too easily to sin though I knew full well that nothing is hidden from God’s sight,[12] or when I did not speak up when I witnessed wrong, or when I failed to recognize Christ in the faces of the needy I did not help?[13] If I am not careful, I thought, I may find myself honoring Him with my lips though my heart is far from Him.[14]

So, as I watched Silence and saw the actions of those who willingly laid down their lives for the Lord who laid down His life for them, I was moved and challenged. I remembered the apostles, who in the fifth chapter of the book of Acts were imprisoned by the authorities for preaching and healing in the name of Jesus. An angel released them at night, sending them back to the temple courts to continue their preaching. There they were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, where they were interrogated and flogged. Then we are told something that has always stood out to me: “the apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”[15] They did not merely endure the pain—they found reason to rejoice in it. And not only did they rejoice— they considered it an honor to suffer disgrace for the sake of Christ. What would it look like if we went out into the world with this mindset? How much less would we fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul?[16] How much more freely would we share our faith? How much less would we feel burdened by what people think of us?

Let us, then, rejoice, even when we suffer, and in so doing surprise both ourselves and others around us. In one scene in Silence three of the Christians are hung on crosses on the shore to slowly drown with the swelling of the tide, a scene reminiscent of Christ’s crucifixion between the two thieves. One of them does not die for four long days and breathes his last, neither cursing his captors nor denouncing God, but singing a hymn about paradise. The sound must have tormented his tormentors—such inexplicable joy; such hope; such faith.

From suffering to glory

At one point in Silence the Inquisitor sneers at one of the captured priests, “the price for your glory is their suffering!” I was reminded of the words of Paul in Romans:

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.[17]

In the same mysterious way that the Creator of heaven and earth found it fitting to descend in the form of a man to die for mankind, in the same way that the last shall be first and the first last, and that we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of God[18]—in that same mysterious way, the heirs of God must share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. And how do we share in His suffering? At least partly by sharing in the suffering of others, for Christ told us that when we give to the needy, feed the hungry, clothe the naked or visit the sick, we have done it for Him. And there is great reward, because to share in His glory outweighs so entirely any suffering we could ever experience that we cannot even begin to compare them. It is to join the great multitude that cannot be numbered in the presence of God before His throne.[19] It is to be where God will wipe away every tear, where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain, where God has made all things new.[20] Let us take heart at this great hope. Without the promise of glory there is no hope in suffering. We are not mercenaries; we work not for the reward, but because of the love of God; we endure for the sake of Christ. Yet, in a way, there is a subtle truth to the taunt of the Inquisitor: in a way, the price of glory is suffering. But the Christians did not suffer for the glory of the priests; they suffered that they themselves would share in the glory of Christ.

This talk of glory is all well and good, but someone may ask, “What about now? I do not want riches, but when I cry out in prayer I want to be heard. Why won’t God speak to me? Why, as Silence poignantly asks, does God so often seem silent in my plight?” As is so often helpful with hard questions like these, let us look to Jesus. We remember the silence in the garden of Gethsemane the night before Christ’s crucifixion. In the anguish of the knowledge of His impending ordeal, He sweated blood. Kneeling He prayed earnestly, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me”—a very reasonable request given the circumstances. But He added, “yet not my will, but yours be done.”[21] We remember the following day, the weight of the sins of the world on Him as He hung on the cross and feeling for our sakes the full darkness of separation from God, how Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[22] Yet, looking down upon His executors, He prayed that God would forgive them for their actions.[23] And He died committing His spirit into God’s hands.[24] Let us be like our Lord: even when we feel overwhelmed by the weight of our sufferings, when God seems most silent and distant, let us trust in His will, let us pray for those who trouble us, and let us rest in God’s hands, knowing that He is still with us and will always be. For Christ rose again on the third day and lives forever, seated at the right hand of the Father, and is with us through the Holy Spirit always, to the very end of the age.[25] One of the imprisoned priests in Silence expressed well his hope in the midst of silence: “He is here. I just can’t hear Him.”

Silence moved me and made me think a great deal. The sum of what we have said is this: Christ gave up much for our sakes; let us do likewise for His sake. He humbled Himself, suffered and died for us; let us do likewise for our neighbor. He rose again; so shall we if we believe in Him. He ascended to glory; we shall share in it if we do not give up. And let us always remember the joyous promise we have while we remain here on Earth, as so beautifully expressed in one of my favorite hymns:[26]

Alleluia! not as orphans are we left in sorrow now;
Alleluia! He is near us, faith believes, nor questions how;
Though the cloud from sight received him
when the forty days were o’er shall our hearts forget his promise,
“I am with you evermore”?

 

1 Matthew 16:25
2 1 John 4:19, Ephesians 5:2, John 15:13
3 Luke 6:27–36, Matthew 5:43–47, Romans 5:8
4 Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 6:14–15, Matthew
18:21–35, Luke 7:36–50
5 Matthew 20:28
6 Matthew 16:24
7 Luke 14:25–35
8 Luke 18:18–23
9 Matthew 6:19–21
10 A phrase from the morning and evening
prayers of the Book of Common Prayer.
11 Matthew 7:13–14
12 Hebrew 4:13
13 Matthew 25:31–46
14 Isaiah 29:13, Matthew 15:8
15 Acts 5:17–42
16 Matthew 10:28
17 Matthew 20:16
18 Matthew 18:3
19 Revelation 7:9
20 Revelation 21:4–5
21 Luke 22:42
22 Matthew 27:46; see also the prayer of King
David in Psalm 22
23 Luke 23:34
24 Luke 23:46

Richard Ibekwe is a junior studying Mechanical Engineering and Nuclear Science & Engineering. He is from the UK and enjoys discussing philosophy and the intricacies of British politics.

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