Endure Isolation and Suffering

Maybe Isolation, Not Loneliness, Shortens Life : Shots - Health ...

Ever feel isolated and in anguish?  When I lived in Japan and Pakistan I was quite isolated.  The language barrier and my geographical distance from friends and family made emotionally hard times harder.  Perhaps more painful, though, is the isolation of the way that I process and think.  Culture is moving in ways that I can not follow.  In England I was viewed with incredulity because of my faith, and in the last fifteen years I have found that America has caught up.  The majority culture of America had been firmly rooted in the morality of Judeo-Christian heritage.  Now the social norms and code of ethics are trying to adapt to pluralism in ways that eliminate Christian privilege and even view biblical truth as abusive and damaging.  I am sad when I hear of judges in California who view evangelism as child-abuse;  I see my own views on sexuality being shared by an ever-shrinking sub-group; my views that God has created the world to live for him alone, and that Jesus is the only way to know him, seem intolerant at best, but even seem hateful to some.

The biblical book of Mark was written to a group of disenfranchised followers of Jesus who were suffering in the Roman empire.  Some would face death because they refused to offer homage to Caesar as a god.  For those who embraced all gods as equal, adding Caesar as a god to their pantheon of deities might have seemed like a sure way to keep their bases covered.  In fact having Jesus, Caesar, Jupiter, and Jehovah as equals would have seemed acceptable to many.  Because Christians would not place their own God on the same plain as other gods, they were viewed with suspicion.  Suspicion grew to hostility in some cases.  Politically it became fashionable to harass and persecute those of the Christian faith.  There are parallels between the pluralistic and tolerant society of the first century and the pluralistic and tolerant society of the twenty-first society in the West.  If a faith allows for other faiths, and if a faith holds that all faiths are equal, it is tolerated or even welcomed.  In today’s world many of the children of Muslims, Jews, and Christians have reinvented their faith to fit in.  They water down their creed into a self-help guide.  God becomes a benevolent therapist who is open at all hours.  The gospel demands nothing of anyone, but offers free consultation on how to improve your marriage, develop lasting relationships, or raise moral children.  The code for living is the same in every faith, so it would seem:  Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Christians are told to honour their parents;  The majority of faith systems care for the sick and help the poor.  If the major world religions can empty themselves of their distinctives, then we can all live in peace.  Who doesn’t want world peace?  Religion, so it is argued, leads to violence and bloodshed.  What can ensure our futures is a world with religious devotion and belief which is free from God.  We are told mankind created some strange religions in the past because we were ignorant.  Now that we have access to global news and a worldwide web of information, we must surely see that Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism are too small minded to be true for all people.  Once Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Voodoo, and Shinto were often dismissed easily for their small reach.  With our wealth of knowledge we need a new religion that has the scope to encompass all, or we need to admit that no religion can encompass the varied experiences of humanity.

In the first century the new faith of Christianity seemed too small to explain reality.  It was to be shut down like a yelping puppy.  Now in this later age, the old faith that is centered on Jesus and his exclusive claim that he is the only way of salvation, seems determinedly ignorant and needs to be put out of its misery like an old sheepdog that has outlived its use.

In the church it may seem like our youth are deserting or betraying us en masse.  However, it could be said that the older generation has betrayed or deserted their youth.  Those who grew up in the seventies and eighties often chose not to have children because it would interfere with their own dreams of self-actualization.  Although we acknowledged God with our mouths, we were not devoted to him in our hearts.  We taught a simplified faith in our churches which watered down the gospel to a repetitive diet of read the Bible more, pray more, and be nice to people.  Sermons we delivered became self-help guides which were no different from the help offered by other faiths.  We lost sight of the significance of the cross of Christ.  We made the cross a get-out-of-hell free card.  Once children accepted Jesus at a church camp or Sunday school at age 8, the faith demanded no real discipleship except that we encourage others to get-out-of-hell free, too.  In society our economy shifted to make duel incomes the new norm.  Two salaries now purchase what one salary could.  So now two parents are pressured to work leaving television, computers, cell-phones and public education to raise our children.  So, have we been betrayed by our children walking away from the faith we say that we believe in?  Or, have they been betrayed by our failure to live fully for the God we say we love with all our heart, soul, mind and strength?

In Mark 14 Jesus’ disciples desert and betray him.  Jesus is shown as having the courage to endure isolation and suffering which the early Christians needed.  When Mary, Lazarus’ sister, breaks a container of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet, Judas is disgusted at the waste.  The passage does not say that this is the final straw leading to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, but he decides that he has had enough of Jesus and betrays him to the religious leaders of the time.  Peter stands out as the most powerful potential ally to Jesus and therefore the greatest disappointment.  Whilst all the disciples claim that they will stick with Jesus through anything, it is Peter who is most vehement concerning his loyalty.  Not long after his claims he falls asleep when Jesus is in anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Finally, by the time the cock crows twice, Peter has denied Jesus three times in order to save his skin.

In contrast to the failure of the disciples, Jesus walks resolutely toward crucifixion.  The death of Jesus is no accident.  Jesus is not surprised by his isolation and betrayal, it is a part of what must come.  He is already isolated from the people and their leaders.  He is now becoming estranged from his own followers.  Finally he will become estranged from his Heavenly Father.  It is hard to walk resolutely into isolation, but it is for the glory set before him that Jesus endures the cross and its shame.

As you read through Mark 14, look at the foreknowledge of Jesus, look at Jesus’ fortitude and look at his forbearance in the face of isolation and suffering.

It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.”

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.

12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13 And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him,14 and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’15 And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” 16 And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

17 And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples,“Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.”50 And they all left him and fled.

51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance,right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.

66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Jesus’ foreknowledge is emphasized a number of times in the passage.  In the gospels we read many times that Jesus knew people’s hearts, he could interpret the times, he could foretell the future.  The knowledge that Jesus has is shared with his followers.  He knows that he will suffer, he knows that he will be betrayed, he knows that he will be denied.  His disciples are told all of these things.  However, Jesus also knows them.  He knows that the truth he holds is beyond the ability of his disciples to accept.  They have certain preconceived ideas of themselves.  Judas, Peter, and the others are in denial.  Judas can not accept Jesus’ truth about him because he is focused on money.  Love of money causes Judas to misinterpret the generous act of a woman who perfumes Jesus’ body, as waste rather than an act of devotion.  It is possibly love of money that motivates Judas to cash in on a failed Messiah by turning him over to the authorities.  Jesus lets Judas know the path he has chosen, but Judas walks that path anyway.  Judas may have thought he was in control of himself and his destiny, but Jesus reveals to him that greater forces are at work.  Peter also thinks that he knows himself, but Jesus knows him better.  He knows that Peter has passions which burn hot.  His emotions will lead him.  Although Peter may exhibit courage in a sword fight, when he is questioned by young girls or servants his bravery will evaporate and his passion will be to defend himself.  Was it only Peter, though, whom Jesus knew better than they knew themselves?  We are told that all the disciples made claims of their loyalty and bravery.  Jesus knew them all better than they knew themselves.

He also knew what he must endure.  He knew that he would die and be buried.  His body would be broken and his blood would be spilled.  However, rather than despair at the meaninglessness of his death, Jesus saw the significance in his suffering.  The cruelest assault on the mind is when we endure trials without understanding their purpose.  This is why Jesus’ brother James would later write that during trials, if we lack wisdom, we should ask God to give us understanding of the meaning of our trials.  There is a peace that can be known which counterbalances anguish when suffering has meaning.  Although Jesus would endure the greatest of suffering it would be related to the greatest of meaning.  His body would be broken for his followers.  His blood would be spilled for his disciples.  In the upper room Jesus took his own death and the death of the Passover lamb and showed them as being one in the same.  The Passover lamb in Exodus allowed death to pass over the Israelite people.  The absence of a sacrifice meant that death would come to  the Egyptians.  Now Jesus’ death would mean that those who follow him would be passed over by death.  Those who are disciples of Jesus will be saved from the power of death and will live with God eternally.  As Jesus foretells his own death, he also foretells his friends’ salvation.  As Jesus has every reason for heartache and anguish, he also has reason for rejoicing and thanksgiving.

If Jesus knows his own fate then he is master of his own destiny.  The cross is not a failure but a hard-won victory.  In a similar way, those who endured hardship and received this letter in the first century could know that all this was to be expected.  Hardship, isolation, and persecution were always part of God’s plan.  It is through suffering that God shows his glory.  Value is added to the actions that disciples take when they are done against resistance.  The greater the resistance, the more value is added to our actions.  God knows that resistance will come and he equips us appropriately.

I am presently watching the series Poldark with my wife.  I was so enthralled when I saw an episode of the new series that I went out and bought the series on DVD.  It took me back to the coastline of Cornwall and the history of my country of birth.  I was so homesick that I watched the whole series in two days.  The series communicates much hardship.  Life in the 18th century was hard.  Copper and tin mining in Cornwall was the major lifeblood because much of the land was hard to farm and fishing could only support those who lived in the fishing villages on the coast.  The economy in Cornwall today relies on tourism quite heavily rather than the natural resources the county has to offer.  So I was gripped by the tale of Wheal Leisure, Ross Poldark’s mine.  Would it succeed or fail?  After watching the season through once, I agreed to watch it again with my wife.  It is different the second time, though, I know how the story ends.  When there is a twist in the tale, I do not have the added dramatic tension that my wife feels.  I can be assured that the result is certain.  I know the script.

In our lives Jesus knows the script.  He is seated at the right hand of the Father and we are his disciples.  He has told us that there will be suffering, but he has let us know that in the end God wins.  In the end the world is set right-side-up and all that is meant to be will be.  That is something which escapes our view in the middle of unpleasantness or pain.  We find it hard to think that hurtful things can have purpose.  One of the most basic purposes is to change us into people who are more like Jesus.  Jesus sees us most accurately and he knows how we should be.  It runs against our pride to be told by someone else that we need to grow.  However, each one of us needs to change and most deep changes are painful.  Jesus knows who we are created to be and he will lead us through pain to become the better version of ourselves.  However, the more global reason for pain is its role in the gospel.  Jesus’ death and resurrection bring the power to set the world to rights.  The world has its own system and often resists being conformed to biblical ideals.  To work out the bigger plan of redemption sets us at odds with principalities and powers which have dominion in this dark age.  Courageous Christians will not only oppose the evils in their own lives, but they will address broader societal evils.  We can agree that sex-trafficking is evil, we can agree that poverty and ignorance must be combated but how must a Christian stand for the unborn, what kind of stand can be made against the destruction that industry brings to God’s creation?  Some people try to avoid getting too political with their faith and others use political systems to try and change the nation without changing its heart.  The truth is that the Christian must authentically live out their inner calling in their private and public lives.  Jesus is our example in this.  He was the same person in public as he was in private.  What stirred in his heart and led him to the cross, stirred the hearts of his disciples and his enemies because he lived it out in front of them.  We have courage because we know there is a plan and the same Jesus who knew his disciples knows us intimately and knows the future into which we walk blindly.

Apart from foreknowledge, we also see Jesus’ fortitude in this passage.  Fortitude is courage in pain or adversity.  Just as Jesus knew the pain he would endure, he had to have the courage to walk into it.  The passage which describes Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is powerful.  The description of the saviour of mankind thrashing about in the dust is unnerving.  We often picture Jesus commanding illness to leave a person, we picture him calming the stormy seas and we picture him eventually being raised from the dead.  We do not picture him distressed to the point of death.  However, the depth of his distress directly correlates to the magnitude of his courage.  It takes no courage to face an enemy when the enemy brings no struggle.  When I squash the ants that invade my house they present no real threat to me.  I squash them with indifference.  It requires no courage for me to overcome an insect that is so insignificant compared to me.  Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane was facing a foe which drove him to his limits.  In fact it is hard to understand how such a foe could even exist.  Was it  Satan?  Was it the option of taking a different route than the cross?  Was Jesus scared of the physical pain of Roman scourging?  Was Jesus writhing at the thought of agony on the cross where he would be asphyxiated?  It could have been all of these, but to Jesus the most precious thing was his relationship with The Father.  However, when he was crucified he would cry out, “My God, My God!  Why have you forsaken me!?”  Maybe Jesus was just connecting himself to the suffering servant of Psalm 22 who utters the same words, but I think that in a real way God the Father could not look upon his Son as he carried the sin of the world.  The anguish that he struggled with may have been physical in part, but it was deeply emotional.  The essence of his identity was that he was the Son of God, this claim would lead to his death, but for a while the Son would lose his most essential connection in order to reconnect a lost world with its maker.  I believe that this is the reason he was writhing in the dirt.  I believe that this is the reason he wanted his friends close.  I believe this is the great suffering that demanded the greatest fortitude.  He could have walked away and chosen some ease and comfort.  He knew who was coming for him and he knew where they would look for him and Jesus had to stay where he would be found.  It was agony to stay put, but he did.  It was not easy to endure denial and betrayal, but he did.  It is a deep mystery how the Father’s justice on sin and evil could be meted out on his Son, but it was.  Jesus endured when any lesser man who was fully aware of his fate would have fled.

This was a great example to those who would endure public beatings in the first century.  Persecutions were coming.  Christians were being blamed for all kinds of public evils.  Jesus had warned that his followers would be dragged into the public arena and tortured and killed.  It was no surprise when Stephen was stoned to death or when James was beheaded.  The question was whether the followers of Jesus would show the same fortitude that he did in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Some walked away or offered the required sacrifices to Caesar.  However, the blood of many followers of Jesus provided proof to the Roman world that Jesus had really transformed lives.  Those who were not physically strong or naturally brave faced lions in the arenas.  Those who were not eloquent spoke boldly of their belief in Jesus.  Their faithfulness unto death was a reflection of the fortitude of Jesus given to them by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The same Spirit empowers true followers of Jesus today.

A long time ago I read a book of Christ-like courage that challenged my weak faith.  The book was by Richard Wurmbrand and was called Tortured for Christ.  Under the communists in Romania Richard Wurmbrand spent three years in solitary confinement.  His cell was twelve feet underground with no light or windows.  How can a man endure such isolation and suffering?  The psychological affects of solitary confinement are notorious.  People have lost their minds because of lack of human interaction.  However, Richard Wurmbrand saw this time as time alone with God.  God fortified him so that he was able to become an encouragement to others who were suffering under the communists at that time.  God’s power equipped and emboldened Richard Wurmbrand so that upon his release he was able to write down accounts of God’s goodness to him in spite of the abuses he had to endure.  A more vivid account is given in Tortured for Christ than I can give here.  However, to many people like me the life of Jesus as he suffered in the face of his tormentors is replicated in the life of modern Christians whose stories speak of their deep faith.  We would do well to learn from those who have never had the privilege of being in the majority.  We should look to those whose voices the world is trying to silence.  Richard Wurmbrand has fought to give these people a voice by founding Voice of the Martyrs.  You can read what suffering our brothers and sisters around the world endure by going to their website persecution.com.

How would your own fortitude rate?  Have you found strength in God to endure a few mocking comments at work because of your biblical views on current issues?  Have you been isolated and maybe left out of social events because you are different?  Some of us have more internal struggles. Our anguish is over our doubts that the faith in which we were raised could be really true.  Some people cope with their doubts by either pretending they don’t exist or living feeble lives that communicate a feeble faith.  The followers who walk with Jesus spend their lives actively seeking truth even when the faith leads through dark doubts.  We can not be guided by our emotions.  We must set our will in line with what we have once known in spite of present circumstances.  A weak person is blown around by circumstances.  They are unstable.  They lack the reason to have strong conclusions or live by their values.  A strong person may change their opinions when they are wrong, but they are strong enough not to cave under peer pressure.  They overcome the fashionable views in the media, but they also overcome the internal lusts and desires which tell them that they do not have what they should.  The man or woman of fortitude will be marked by their endurance.  Is our faith showing signs of wear or does it look like it will last?

Jesus’ foreknowledge should give us confidence, Jesus’ fortitude should strengthen us.  Thirdly, his forbearance should inspire us to deal with others with patience and tolerance.  He did not seem in this passage to rage at his disciples even though they tried his patience.  Even with his enemies he did not scream and shout but waited for the right moment to condemn himself.  Jesus is reasonable and composed in the face of impending failure on the part of his closest friends.  Jesus does not hate Judas and treat him cruelly when he says that it would be better if Judas had never been born.  Jesus tells him the simple truth.  Tolerance does not validate every perspective.  True tolerance treats those who disagree with us with great respect.  All people are created by God for good purposes.  When people go their own way it is unspeakably sad and we do not treat them lovingly when we tell them otherwise.  If Jesus had said to Judas, “I believe that your betrayal of me is true to your own heart.  I am glad that you are authentic and making your own path in life.  Your independent spirit will probably work out for good in the end,”  Jesus would have been a liar.  When we speak the truth to people we show them reality.  Living by falsehood is folly.  When Jesus speaks to Judas as he does he is showing him a kindness.  Jesus is not defending himself.  Jesus is not in fear for his own life.  Jesus is as patient and loving with Judas as ever he was.  Judas has chosen the darkest path possible and Jesus lets Judas know he knows.  When Judas finally realises the extent of his betrayal, he can not say he was not warned.

Jesus shows similar forbearance with Peter.  Peter is impetuous and tends to over promise. He gets rewarded for speaking bold truths and also gets rebuked when he tempts Jesus to walk a path other than crucifixion.  Jesus knows how Peter blows hot and cold, but he still loves and accepts him.  When Jesus tells Peter what is going to happen it is for his good.  We are told of a follow up conversation that Jesus has with Peter in John 21.  Peter has to realise that he is not all that he thinks he is, so Jesus is the one to tell him.  Peter’s denial marks him and gives him a profound understanding of his own weakness.  Jesus puts up with a lot from Peter, but in the end Peter will be humble enough to become the servant leader he is in the Book of Acts.

Jesus’ conduct in court means that the outcome is never in doubt.  Jesus does not lose patience with his persecutors.  He does not lose his temper.  Jesus is able to manage the situation because he shows restraint.

When I watch debates between famous atheists and believers there is often a contrast in character which I think speaks more loudly than the words going back and forth.  Although some atheists are very polite and respectful, too often the forbearance is all on one side.  The atheist has very thinly veiled contempt for the inferior intellect.  They do not show tolerance.  I believe their aim is not to win another person to their cause but to show the superiority of their arguments.  A truly tolerant person will forbear the opportunity to take a cheap shot at an opponent.  They uphold the other person’s dignity while showing the weakness in their argument.  In contrast a believer in an argument with an atheist is often careful not to argue against the person, their race, their gender, or their political allegiance.  Bill Maher is a very public example of an atheist who has little time for people of faith.  On his show he might make quips about a believer’s imaginary friend.  He has even made a movie called Religulous where he interviewed Jewish, Muslim and Christian people of faith around the world.  Film critics thought the movie was funny but it was also disrespectful, shallow and condescending.  Christian movies like God’s Not Dead might paint a shallow view of an atheist but they paint a picture that longs for redemption and relationship, not one that wishes that atheists would just realise they are idiots and shut up or go away.

The apostle Paul, in Philippians, tells us that our gentleness should be evident to all.  The word he uses there has a meaning of reasonableness.  We should have a cool head in times of conflict.  We do so by remembering that Jesus, who endured such opposition with forbearance will also empower us to do the same.  When we get angry with people we are often forgetting their value as human beings.  In The Sermon on the Mount Jesus states that all anger should be addressed because it is on the road to murder.  Isn’t that extreme?  In our anger we cease to treat the other individual as valuable.  If another individual is less than us, less than human, eventually we can dispose of them.  Killing someone becomes equivalent to taking out the trash.  How do we handle disagreement?  Do we find that our feeling of being disrespected triggers something beyond control?  What about when someone is working against us?  We may be under control at work when a rival colleague tries to impress the boss.  We know that our job is at stake if we yell at the woman in the next office.  However, what happens when we start losing at Scrabble, Monopoly or Risk?  How much is at stake?  Do we handle losing well?  If we win in an argument, a board game or at work but lose our patience we still have a lot to learn from Jesus.

In conclusion, we see in Mark 14 the character of Jesus as he struggled with anguish deep in his soul.  In contrast with those around him we see his foreknowledge, fortitude and forbearance.  These words were originally written to encourage those facing persecution in the Roman empire to endure.  With the loss of a voice in the pluralistic society in which we live, we have a lot to learn from Jesus too.  Through the Word of God we receive insight into the times in which we now live.  We can see the nature of humans and their destiny.  The Bible contains the knowledge and perspective of God.  Through the Spirit we can be strengthened so that we will endure through times of hardship.  We are never truly isolated because our God is always with us.  He gives us strength.  Finally, the tolerance of Jesus toward those with whom he greatly disagreed or who were walking dark paths gives us a lesson in how to engage with others with whom we disagree.  People have value because they are created in the image of God.  With even the most difficult people, we must affirm their value.

Endure isolation and suffering with foreknowledge, fortitude and forbearance.

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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