In my visits to churches overseas, one difference from North American Christians stands out sharply: their view of hardship and suffering. We who live in an age of unprecedented comfort seem obsessed with the problem of pain. Skeptics mention it as a major roadblock to faith, and believers struggle to come to terms with it. Prayer meetings in the U.S. often focus on illnesses and requests for healing. Not so elsewhere.
I asked a man who visits unregistered house churches in China whether Christians there pray for a change in harsh government policies. After thinking for a moment, he replied that not once had he heard a Chinese Christian pray for relief.
"They assume they'll face opposition," he said. "They can't imagine anything else." He then gave some examples. One pastor had served a term of 27 years at hard labor for holding unauthorized church meetings. When he emerged from prison and returned to church, he thanked the congregation for praying. Assigned a dangerous prison job, he had managed to couple together 1 million railroad cars without an injury. "God answered your prayers for my safety!" he proudly announced.
Another imprisoned pastor heard that his wife was going blind. Desperate to rejoin her, he informed the warden that he was renouncing his faith. He was released, but soon felt so guilty that he turned himself in again to the police. He spent the next 30 years in prison.
I have read enough stories of Christians suffering so as to become impervious to a prosperity gospel that guarantees health and wealth.
I found the same pattern in Myanmar (formerly Burma), a dictatorship with brutal policies against religious activities. The person who invited me to the country informed me, "When you speak to pastors, you should remember that probably all of them have spent time in jail because of their faith."
"Then should I talk about one of my book topics like Where Is God When It Hurts? Or Disappointment with God?" I asked.
"Oh, no, that's not really a concern here," he said. "We assume we'll be persecuted for faith. We want you to speak on grace. We need help getting along with each other."Yancey’s article concludes with several discussion questions. Here is one that I especially encourage you to consider:
Do you think North American Christians have unwittingly embraced a "prosperity gospel" that views "health and wealth" as normal and "hardship and suffering" as unusual?