When I was in college I had to read a book called “Silence” by Shusaku Endo (1966). It is a historical fiction novel about Portuguese Jesuit missionaries who are sent to Japan to investigate the alleged apostasy of one of their superiors. In Japan, the church is “underground” meaning they are persecuted and can not meet in public. When the the main character (one of the Jesuit priests) is finally betrayed and arrested, he is threatened with torture unless he commits apostasy by placing his feet on an image of Jesus placed on the floor. He is hung upside down until he bleeds from his eyes, and yet, he still will not give in. Then he is told that a little boy will be tortured in his place until he relents. At the thought of his stubborn refusal hurting an innocent child, the priest relents and puts his feet on the image of Christ. Though he is released, he is forever disgraced among the Japanese Christians. He concludes that the apostasy of his superior was not as simple and straight forward as it appeared back in Portugal.
I have thought of this book often, and my opinion of the message behind the plot has changed as I have grown spiritually. I am now resigned to the thought that my obedience will also cost others.
On one of the missionary group/chat pages that I am a member of someone recently opened up a long thread based on the lament of leaving behind aging parents in order to go to the mission field. This honest missionary was deeply conflicted and pained by the grief his decisions caused his parents. He was taking the grandchildren far, far away. When he should have been home helping with his ailing parents, he was leaving, abandoning his post. His obedience was costing others.
I enjoy reading the devotional “My Utmost For His Highest” by Oswald Chambers. In January, the daily reading talks about this very theme. Chambers writes:
If we obey God, it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that is where the pain begins. If we are in love with our Lord, obedience does not cost us anything— it is a delight. But to those who do not love Him, our obedience does cost a great deal. If we obey God, it will mean that other people’s plans are upset. They will ridicule us as if to say, “You call this Christianity?” We could prevent the suffering, but not if we are obedient to God. We must let the cost be paid.
When our obedience begins to cost others, our human pride entrenches itself and we say, “I will never accept anything from anyone.” But we must, or disobey God. We have no right to think that the type of relationships we have with others should be any different from those the Lord Himself had (see Luke 8:1-3).
A lack of progress in our spiritual life results when we try to bear all the costs ourselves. And actually, we cannot. Because we are so involved in the universal purposes of God, others are immediately affected by our obedience to Him. Will we remain faithful in our obedience to God and be willing to suffer the humiliation of refusing to be independent? Or will we do just the opposite and say, “I will not cause other people to suffer”? We can disobey God if we choose, and it will bring immediate relief to the situation, but it will grieve our Lord. If, however, we obey God, He will care for those who have suffered the consequences of our obedience. We must simply obey and leave all the consequences with Him.
Beware of the inclination to dictate to God what consequences you would allow as a condition of your obedience to Him. (Emphasis is mine).
Jesus himself said only if your love for God exceeds your love for your parents and siblings and children… only if your love for God makes your love for your family look like hate, will you be worthy to follow Him. It’s not that we DO hate our family. No, we love them, but in comparison to our love for God, family love takes a distant second place. Let the chips fall where they may. God will reward and repay. God will comfort and console.
In the same way that they seized a man named Simon and forced him to carry the cross for Jesus in Luke 23:26, sometimes our commitment to pick up our cross and follow Jesus will cost the innocent bystanders in our lives. Our decision to be missionaries is not made only with ourselves to consider, but neither does our concern for our loved ones water down our passion to serve Christ. Our obedience will cost others.