“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” It was true in the second century when Tertullian first penned those words, and it’s been the experience of saints somewhere on the planet in every age since.
In his profound spiritual reflection, Silence and Beauty, Makoto Fujimura reconsiders the awe and the agony of the Christian community which took root in Japan in the 16th Century. The number of believers there soon reached 300,000, a feat so amazing that missionary Francis Xavier concluded Japan, of all nations in Asia, was “most suited for Christianity.” When the backlash came, it was brutal, demonic, and devastating.
Fujimura, himself a believer, describes a monument to 26 Christian martyrs from that era of darkness that descended on the church: a few missionaries, some adult believers, and two boys, Ibaraki and Anthony, the older being 13 years old. This particular group of believers was force-marched 480 miles from their home to a hill in Nagasaki. The ordeal began with their ears and noses being cut off, and it concluded with twenty-six crosses lined up and waiting at their destination. The tormentors must have been certain this nightmarish ordeal would bring about a change of heart. They had miscalculated.
As soon as they arrived, one of the battered lads stepped forward and called out, “Show me my cross.” The other boy followed, “And show me mine.”
In spite of our reverence for the cross, many of us in the West scarcely consider the power and the impact of suffering for righteousness. In our age of convenience and consumer values, the idea of enduring affliction for a higher cause seems unnecessary at best and maybe even ungodly at worst. Why would I do that? And yet a friend described for me just last night how she slept on the floor beside her husband’s sickbed night after night as he lay dying, just to be near him in his final hours. How commonly we skip meals when a family member is suffering. Many of us understand bearing discomfort for loved ones, and yet for Jesus…?
The Book of Job can be a perplexing struggle, but our problem is not just the poetry. The ancient hero’s dark night of the soul seems like utter folly to us. We throw up our hands, asking why God’s people should suffer bad things; finding no answer. In fact, that’s not the question God addresses in this familiar story. Job could never have discerned that his misery had resulted from a conversation in Heaven. Neither can you or I detect spiritual forces and purposes that turn the wheels of heaven just out of sight.
Job’s story asks a more compelling question: Do we really love God, or do we simply use him for His blessings? The old man clung to God even as his earthly assets went down the drain. Later in the New Testament, Paul was convinced he could know Christ better by bonding with him through his own afflictions. “I want to know Him..!” (Philippians 3:10)
Sometimes I wonder if we’ve lost sight of Heaven. It’s easy to become addicted to the comforts of here and now; offended by anything less that The American Dream. Then I recall the promise of Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The most splendid experience in that kingdom will be his presence.
Scripture teaches the saints to pray for gold refined by fire. Many of us might find it helpful to take a look at Silence and Beauty; or just read the Book of Job again, more slowly this time.
Lift up the Cross!