I like crime–while, actually, I like crime in books and on TV and in movies. I prefer to see the good guys win and the bad guys go to jail, although some of the current anti-hero approaches are well done. Anyway, a recurring idea in many crime pieces is the reluctant witness, the individual who knows something important to solving the case who will only testify if assured of protection. The witness generally becomes part of a witness protection program and depending on the writer’s needs, lives happily ever after or is pursued by some evil contract killed who is using information supplied by some corrupt official in the program.
Being a witness can be difficult and dangerous–and can even be fatal, if we can believe what we see on TV and in the movies. Of course, we know that TV and movies don’t have a lot of connection to real life, not even when the claim is made that it is “based on real events”. And we most certainly can’t make a connection between the trials of media witnesses and the issues that Christian witnesses need to deal with.
But there are some realities about Christian witnessing that do resemble some of the media scenarios. We are witnesses to God and his love in a world where God and his love are not always welcome. Being a witness to the love of God doesn’t always involve people happily and excitedly hearing and accepting what we say. While that can be a reaction to our witness, there are many other possible reactions.
There can be indifference. Sometimes, we will see anger. Some will respond with scorn or laughter. Our witness can lead to our being rejected. We can lose our social position. While not a major issue in North America, Christian witnessing can be met with physical violence in parts of the world–and is in a few parts of the world, Christian witnessing is illegal and can result in jail time. Now, the reality is that for most of us, any negative consequences of being a witness to God’s love are going to be on the less physical and more emotional side, with anger and indifference being the most the majority of us will face.
But even that can be painful. We are giving witness to something important to us and it hurts when what we are saying or showing is rejected. It feels like people are not only rejecting our witness but us as well and most of us don’t like rejection, even if we expect it.
God does provide us with a witness protection program, but not in the way we might think. Rather than protect us from the negative reactions, God provides us with help as we face the negative reactions. That help is the presence of the Holy Spirit–God himself is with is and helping is and strengthening us. When we are witnessing, God provides us with guidance in the process (Matthew 10.19-20). When things go bad, the Spirit helps and strengthens us.
The strength the Spirit provides is important and valuable and powerful–but it isn’t what we might like or think it should be. God doesn’t promise to shield us from the pain and suffering that may be a result of our witness on his behalf. He does promise to be with us in the process (Matthew 28.20b) and he promises to bring something good out of whatever we suffer (Romans 8.28).
And as well, he promises that we will be blessed, although this blessing is a mixed blessing. We read in Matthew 6.11-12, we read, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (NIV)
Part of the blessing we receive is that we are in good company–giving witness to the God of love and grace isn’t easy and pain free. Whatever we suffer because of it isn’t new or even unusual, nor it is pointless. God in the power of the Spirit will work through and with our witness and the reaction to it and he will use it for good–and we will be blessed, even if the blessing isn’t the removal of our hurt and pain.
We are witnesses and we have access to the fullness of the power of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit who helps us know what to do and how to deal with the response.
May the peace of God be with you.