We have a tendency to think that when we make someone angry with our words or actions, we’ve done something wrong. That’s not an entirely bad tendency, of course—often, as fallen human beings, when we upset others, we have done something wrong and need to engage in some self-reflection and apologies. But this reflexive tendency becomes a problem when someone else’s anger towards our Christian words or actions causes us to conclude either that 1) we haven’t expressed ourselves well enough or, worse, 2) that Christianity itself is hateful, or ugly, or false.
It’s vitally important to remember that those conclusions don’t necessarily follow. In terms of the first, no one has ever expressed himself as lovingly, truthfully, and wisely as Jesus, yet clearly many hated him.
As for Christianity’s truthfulness, at the very least, people’s hatred isn’t evidence of its falsity. In fact, the opposite may be true, as a new theist (though not yet Christian) recently told me, to my surprise. He said the evidence for Christianity he found to be most compelling was its wisdom about how to live well, which results in people’s anger towards it:
In modern society, vice is championed as virtue and nearly everything elites want you to do is an inversion of what’s in the Bible. It also strikes me as odd that the Bible so accurately encapsulates the best way to lead a life. I think everyone knows this, and that’s why you see so much anger directed towards Christianity.
I’ve been mulling this idea over for the past few weeks and then came across an illustration of the same point by Tim Challies in “Christian, Do You Expect to Face Persecution?”
A few years ago one of my neighbors drank a bit too much and the next day he had a pretty bad hangover. He must have been lying in a darkened room with an icepack on his head while outside our kids and the neighbor kids were laughing and playing and enjoying some innocent childish fun. They were being good kids and having a good time. But suddenly the neighbor threw open his window and screamed “Make those kids be quiet!” His condition made their joy painful to him; it made their expressions of happiness intolerable. And something like that happens when we become Christians and begin to live out God’s true design for humanity before other people. Our holiness confronts their sinfulness. They see Christians living as God truly made us to live, living in the joy of the Lord—and it challenges them; it confronts them; it convicts them. And many respond with hatred, with persecution.
This persecution can be shown in attitude and insults; or it can be shown in imprisonment and death. But either way: it is the normal course of normal Christianity that we suffer for our faith. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven should expect to face persecution.
This idea is worth keeping in mind since you will need to counteract the tendency I described earlier with truth as the need arises.
Hebrews has much to say about not being pressured into abandoning the gospel, pointing to Jesus as our example, who did not turn aside from obedience, despite the ultimately lethal hatred of others:
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb. 12:1–3)
If you are going to be swayed from Christianity, let it be because you are no longer convinced by the evidence that it’s true, and not because of anyone’s reaction to it or a desire to be accepted by the people around you. First Peter’s message is clear: If you persevere, you will suffer now at the hands of men, but resurrection, glory, and eternal joy are all on the side of Jesus.