The Sisyphus Complex
by John UpChurch
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10, ESV)
I used to have nightmares about King Sisyphus—not really the wake-up-in-a-sweat dreams of childhood, but more the kind of gut-punching thoughts that plague the daytime. Those are worse because you don't wake up.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, let's talk about who this king was. According to Greek mythology, King Sisyphus was the Machiavellian politician of his day. While responsible for a number of advancements in navigation, he also made a name for himself by inviting potential rivals to stay at his place and then killing them off to boost his own influence. He had enough wit to stay ahead of the game for many years—until he got caught.
His punishment for all his misdeeds, according to the story, was to push a heavy rock up a hill for eternity. He heaved and puffed and shoved and moved the massive boulder inch by inch up the slope. Then, just as the top came in sight—no matter what the wily king did—the boulder slipped from his grasp and rolled right back down the hill. Sighing, Sisyphus plodded after it and started all over. Heave, puff, roll, sigh. Heave, puff, roll, sigh.
During my younger days, when I fooled myself into thinking the universe had no Creator, that's how I envisioned my life: a useless toiling toward a goal that didn't exist. I pressed forward . . . toward nothing. I strived . . . for nothing. I aimed . . . at nothing. All I knew was the effort. There could be no ultimate goal. My rock went up; my rock came down. As I said, it was a walking nightmare.
After God took the rock of my own efforts and smashed it with the sledgehammer of His grace, I somehow imagined Christianity would be easier. I envisioned taking up this cross He spoke of and skipping through daisies toward the celestial city. I assumed the narrow path went straight to the gates without the least resistance.
What can I say? I was naïve.
My real awakening came from studying the history of the church. After the resurrection of Christ, there's one theme you don't find in Acts and the epistles: You don't find an easy-go-lucky jaunt up the hill for the followers of Christ. You find Stephen being stoned to death, and Peter being saved from prison at the last minute. You find Paul heading from one city that hates him to another that loathes him—with associated beatings, whippings, and shipwrecks. You find James telling people that persecution is a good thing because of the endurance it produces.
When John tells us about the future of the world, he doesn't describe fields of poppies and smiley faces. Let's summarize his vision: pain, death, more death, and then, when nearly all hope has been sucked from the world, Jesus.
I really shouldn't have been surprised by this. But coming from a background of unbelief and purposeless toiling, I carried false assumptions. This was mainly because I didn't know my Bible.
Jesus, however, gives it to us straight. You're blessed when you suffer for His name and for righteousness. You'll notice the statement isn't a conditional. He didn't say if we're persecuted; instead, He said "those who are persecuted" (check out Matthew 5:11 for more). In fact, if everything seems too easy and the road flattens out, that's when you need to worry.
Intersecting Faith & Life: You may receive blessings here in this world, but the real end, the real finish line, the real rest after carrying the cross up the hill is obtaining the kingdom. His yoke is easy; his burden is light; and His reward is beyond compare. Just don't expect those daises.