I have read enough such stories and interviewed enough saintly people so as to become impervious to any hint of a prosperity gospel that guarantees health and wealth. "If anyone would come after Me, he must Mark 8:34and take up his cross and follow Me," said Jesus, who could never be accused of false advertising. "All men will hate you because of Me," Mark 13:13His disciples. But the trials would be worth enduring, for "he who stands firm to the end will be saved." In Matthew 10:28, He encourages us, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul."

The Unseen Reality

Christians claim a loyalty to another world, and from the time of the Roman Empire on, that fact has aroused the suspicion and ire of governments and other religions alike. In Hindu India, Buddhist Sri Lanka, atheistic China and Vietnam, and scores of Muslim countries, present-day Christians experience discrimination and outright persecution.

As George Ladd wrote, "When God's people are called upon to pass through severe sufferings and tribulation, they should remember that God has not abandoned them, but that their sufferings are due to the fact that they no longer belong to This Age and therefore are the object of its hostility."

Even for those fortunate to live in societies that honor religious freedom, following Jesus complicates life, often inviting hardship. I know Christians who have adopted emotionally and physically damaged children, bringing a permanent disruption into their lives. I know a man who resigned his position as president of a Christian college in order to care for his wife afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. In the Philippines I met an ordinary middle-class couple who invited a few street orphans into their houses and ended up running both an orphanage and school.

AIDS. Famines. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. By instinct I do not want to hear about yet another tragedy, but down deep I know I have no option. I must care about that holocaust of human suffering because God cares.

Why, then? Why would anyone choose to follow a God who promises more hardship, not less? I will let the apostle Paul answer that question.

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal ( 2 Corinthians 4:16 ).

Paul had two pictures of himself. One image he could view in a mirror, and the insomnia, beatings, imprisonments, and deprivations must have left their mark in the gaunt and weary face that stared back at him from the crude Roman glass. The other image he could not see. Nevertheless he could sense his inward self being renewed and made more fit, tempered by hardship. Belief in another world cast hardship in such a different light that he could compile a list of his many personal calamities and call them "light and momentary troubles."

I get the overwhelming sense, reading Paul and the book of Acts, that the unseen world became for the apostles more real than the visible world around them. Jesus too had faced tribulation in this world but had returned from death with a promise of triumph and hope. They trusted Him with their future.

Let God Worry

No one gets an exemption from hardship on planet Earth. How we receive it hinges on whether we believe in an alternate reality that transcends the one we know so well. The Bible never minimizes hardship or unfairness; witness books like Job, Psalms, and Lamentations. It simply asks us to withhold final judgment until all the evidence is in.