If the title of this article sounds snarky, then you’ve read it correctly.
Comedian Tim Hawkins has a hilarious routine in which he parodies the too-easily-tossed-around superlative, “That’s the worst!” He tells the purported story of driving his teenaged daughter to the shopping mall, only to discover that her friends had not yet arrived. When she complains, his wife commiserated with her: “Yes, honey, that’s the worst.” Hawkins responds, “Really??!”
He then recounts the occasion when several Chilean miners were trapped underground for some thirty days. They were struggling for air, food and water was scarce, and they had no idea if they would be rescued (they eventually were). Hawkins emphasises how silly it would be if, despite their dire situation, they concluded that “the worst” would be for them to have to wait ten minutes at the mall for late friends! Through humour, his listeners are humbled to rethink what they consider to be a bad situation.
I love watching that routine. It is both hilariously funny and helpfully instructive. It has humorously helped me to be careful about what I conclude is “the worst.”
In these days of frustration and even fear concerning the pandemic, we need to pause before drawing exaggerated conclusions about our predicament. Yes, we are facing difficulty and some have faced the worst: severe illness and even death. Many people have lost their jobs and are experiencing immense financial burdens. In many of these situations the lament “this is the worst” is justified. To make light of this would be wrong-headed, calloused, and cruel. It would be unchristian. May God use us to rescue the perishing.
But having acknowledged real suffering, we must also address an overreaction to another kind of trial. That is: governmental restrictions on the gathering of churches. Many Christians in South Africa are vocal that this amounts to persecution of, or at least discrimination against, Christians. I think such conclusions call for a Tim Hawkins response of, “Really??!”
Last week, I read the following report:
North Korea has topped the list of worst countries for persecuted Christians for 20 straight years. The organization estimates that 1 in 8 Christians around the world lives in a country where they experience significant oppression…. After North Korea, the top five slots include Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan. The situation grew worse in Nigeria, which moved into the top 10 on the list due to Islamic oppression.
Brothers and sisters, that can be justifiably characterised as “the worst.”
In North Korea, you could be executed for owning a Bible. A Nigerian pastor was recently assassinated. I know of missionaries who were assassinated in Somaliland. In Afghanistan, Christian women are abused because they love Jesus. In Pakistan, Christians have been tortured with acid.
Last night, I received a message from a faithful pastor in India asking for prayer as the Indian government intensifies its quest to pass anti-conversion laws by shutting down of churches in order to protect the false religion of Hinduism. In the light of this, it seems a stretch for us to say we are being “persecuted” because of a temporary restriction on our ability to gather.
Though I disagree with some of our government’s decisions regarding the pandemic and churches, to their credit, officials have consulted with religious leaders, including Christian leaders, about the lockdown. Christian funerals are allowed (albeit restricted). We have freedom to use social media to livestream the proclamation of God’s word, and this article is freely published without fear of repression or persecutorial repercussions.
Let’s be careful about exaggerating our current situation. Before bewailing, “Woe is us!” (excuse the grammar), pause and consider what real governmental persecution looks like. When the government imprisons us for preaching the gospel, or when it becomes a capital offence to declare, “Jesus is Lord”, thenwe can speak of oppression. Until then, when we encounter the claim that this lockdown is tantamount to the persecution of Christians, perhaps we should roll our eyes and in unison say, “Really??!” But more importantly, let us “remember [Christians] who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).