St. John Chrysostom lived in a time when the official persecution of Christianity was winding down. The reality of being killed for one’s faith was relatively fresh on the typical believer’s mind. It was that background that helped enable him to write this:
If you see the Church scattered and smitten with the severest of trials, if its members are beaten with rods, if he who was entrusted with its government is exiled to far distant lands, do not look only at these tribulations themselves.
Think of their outcome too: the wages, the reward, the prize for the struggle. “Whoever endures to the end will be saved” is the teaching of Scripture [Matthew 10:22].
Our fathers in Old Testament times saw events contradicting the promises of God, yet they were not shocked or worried. They trusted in a Providence beyond their understanding. Knowing the richness and skill of the divine wisdom they awaited the outcome and in the meantime they endured all the adversities, giving thanks to God and singing his praises despite his allowing these trials.
Compare those events of long ago with what is happening now. You will discover your own weakness. You will see how lacking in strength are the people who are shocked. You will understand how their being shocked stems entirely from the fact that they do not trust in a Providence beyond their understanding.
John Chrysostom is right; Jesus made it quite clear (as recorded in the Gospel books) that Christians are to expect suffering and persecution. We don’t invite it or go out of our way to find it or nit-pick cultural problems and label them as persecution, but when it does happen to come our way we ought not to be surprised. John gives the Old Testament example of the many times in history when God’s promises of rest, a homeland, safety to worship, and so forth, were interrupted, suspended, and even seemingly destroyed. John points out that the faithful among God’s people in those times remained faithful, trusting that God was bigger than their circumstances, and that everything would eventually work out sometime, somehow.
True to his name, John Chrysostom (meaning the “golden-mouthed,” that is, a great preacher) then turns this example directly at us, his audience. If we respond as shocked and worried when we see the world turning against Christianity, we betray a lack of trust in God’s providence. If God really is God, then we don’t need the world to be on our side, to like us, or even to tolerate us. Certainly it’s nice when non-christians do like us, and yes we believe that the world is generally better off when it exists in accord with the teachings of Christ… but again, Jesus taught us to expect persecutions. Do not be dismayed when fiery trials come your way.
I don’t share this because I think the situation in America right now is one of persecution, exactly. I mean, it is in a very small and narrow sense, but it’s nothing like what the Old Testament folks experienced, or what John Chrysostom was referring to. But this I do note: if Christians in America are really this surprised and dismayed at the nearly-trivial persecution we’re beginning to experience now, how would we respond under real persecution? Not to be a Debbie Downer, but it seems like we’ve either got a lot of chaff still to be separated from the wheat, or we’ve got a lot of growing up to do.