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03 November 2017

How long, Lord?

Brian Harley is chair of the Group for Evangelism and Renewal within the United Reformed Church and is a member of the Evangelical Alliance Council.

The cry of the Psalmists comes again and again – "How long, Lord?"

These godly people of old struggled to understand why God allowed evil to carry on and to seemingly triumph while innocent, good people suffer. "How long, LORD, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant"? (Psalm 94:3). Little seems to have changed with all the advances in human society over three millennia.

As the western world tries to move on from a series of recent atrocities in Europe, New York is rocked by another terror attack right in that most sacred space around Ground Zero. Whilst progress has made in the battle against the evils of IS, Somalia is torn apart by two deadly attacks in the capital Mogadishu, thought to be the work of militant Islamic group al-Shabab. Will such wickedness never end? Can't we have some better news?

But Jesus never promised us a rose garden, in this life at least. We live amidst the tension of what is often called the in-between times, bounded by the first and second comings of God's anointed one, our Lord Jesus Christ. We have a glorious future to look forward to where there will be no tears or pain, but we have to get on with living in a world where hostile forces of evil still wreak havoc. A victory has been won on the cross but the wounded enemy still seeks to do as much damage as possible before the final day of triumph.

For me, one of the most sobering things Jesus said was this: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33). He tells his disciples he wants them to have peace but that does not mean they can lie on a sun-drenched beach all the time away from the harsh realities of a broken world. Jesus came to redeem things and he wants his followers to carry on that vital work of bringing women and men back into relationship with their loving creator. As we reach out, we will come up against strong reactions in the same way that Jesus did.

Most of us in the UK Church have it quite easy really. As I take a moment each day to pray for Christians held in prison in Eritrea, I'm reminded of the untold suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters who today are truly identifying with the sufferings of Jesus. He calls us to take up our cross and to follow; not to react with hostility to the bad stuff happening all around us but to discover that love really does win. This can be a really tough call at times but it is the way we are to walk in as people of the light. Paul urges the Christians in Rome to be patient in the face of such troubles and to allow God to sort things out in his way and in his time: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:22).

That is great advice for us this weekend; easy enough to remember but so very hard to actually do as we try to navigate the dilemmas of life. So, taking heart that Jesus has overcome the world, how are you going to live out overcoming evil with good next time you rub up against someone or something that rocks your boat?

November is the month of prayer for the persecuted Church, with the international day of prayer being marked on 19 November. Watch the new video from the Religious Liberty Commission and get involved.

Image: Alex Holyoake