Richard Wurmbrand was imprisoned for 14 years in Communist Romania for one crime: sharing the gospel.
During his imprisonment he was repeatedly branded with hot irons, taunted with just-out-of-reach medicine that could cure his tuberculosis-riddled lungs, and placed naked in “freezer” cells with chains on his feet.
But he and his comrades did the unimaginable: they prayed for their torturers.
I sometimes wonder if we Western Christians are desensitized to love. Oh sure, we have the right words:
“For God so loved the world” (John 3:16).
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love on another” (John 13:35).
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
But what do those words look like?
In his book Tortured for Christ Wurmbrand posed a question to himself: “Are you for the Communists, or against them?”
His answer is complex. Yet its application is incredibly simple. While Communism as a system is detrimental to humanity, Communists themselves are as precious to Jesus as the one lost sheep. This is the mindset that allows Christians to pray for their torturers while still being abused. This is how, when the tables were turned and many Communists became prisoners themselves, Christians were their closest confidants and allies.
It is perfectly noble to hate evil actions, and systems that lie, steal, torture, and murder.
Wurmbrand wrote: “As in the book of Daniel when the three young men who were put in the furnace did not smell like fire upon being delivered from it, so the Christians who have been in Communist prisons don’t smell like bitterness against the Communists.”*
I don’t know about you, but as I read those words, I see an incredible contrast with this love, and what passes for love in 2018.
Look no further than the social media dialogue on a supposedly Christian post or page.
And what about within our own church? Online commentary, church board meetings, and yes, our most recent General Conference session have been recently dominated by heated disagreements that threaten to divide our church. But the issues themselves are not the problem; it’s the lack of love that dominates these sites.
If we aren’t prepared to love people who disagree with us on the other side of the keyboard—or pew—can we really love as did the martyrs who lived during the Communist takeover?
Or, since Communism isn’t as widespread as it was 30 years ago, how about ISIS? When we see news clips of suicide bombers, machine gun-bearing fighters, or sword-wielding masked executioners, how do we feel? We probably feel pain, sorrow, and the presence of evil. But do we feel hatred for the executioners themselves?
Through the experiences of martyrs such as Richard Wurmbrand, I am reminded that it is perfectly noble to hate evil actions, and systems that lie, steal, torture, and murder. But in order to truly love as Christ did, we must never hate people, even those who hate us. The love of Christ that revolutionized the world once is the same love in the hearts of His followers that will revolutionize it again.
This is how they’ll know we are Christians.
* Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (Living Sacrifice Books, 1967), p. 63.
Jimmy Phillips is executive director of marketing for Adventist Health Bakersfield.