What We Can Make of Martyrdom

I think I will always remember riding in the back of a rickshaw in Mumbai, watching a YouTube video on my companion’s phone of a rural pastor in a neighboring state being beaten to death. It was “normal” for this brother in that it was nearby and familiar, but not at all “normal” because it seemed so wrong, so unlike how this world should be. I think that’s why he felt we should watch it.

God’s people are killed. Stories like this–e.g., this story from last month–sadly abound, and we are left asking what to make of it. I don’t know exactly what this tells us about how God works, but I know what it doesn’t mean: The death of God’s saints does not mean that God does not notice, nor that He does not care, nor that He does not have a plan, nor that we cannot trust Him. Scripture takes those potential implications seriously but refutes them with passages of assurance like Revelation 6:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

-Revelation 6:9-11

This is more than assurance about “someday” and “somewhere.” This truth can help us here and now. The psalmist, for example, finds great hope in the fact that God sees and knows. Even though he says,

          I spoke:
“I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my alarm,
“All mankind are liars.”

-Psalm 116:10-11

he affirms a few lines later,

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his saints.

-Psalm 116:15

and this enables him to say,

O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.

-Psalm 116:16

We don’t know when or how God will set things right, but we do know that He can, He plans to, and He will. We grieve for the martyrs, but we also trust that when “the number of their fellow servants and their brothers is complete,” things are going to change, because “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” This is a trustworthy God, to whom we can say with full assurance, “I am your servant,” because this God is faithful to those who are His.

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