This past weekend I started reading Tortured for Christ by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand. It is the true story of his imprisonment and torture in Communist Romania for preaching the Gospel. I had intended to read the whole book and then write a book review. But something I read last night struck me so profoundly that I was compelled to share what he wrote and my thoughts on it.
Wurmbrand talks of love divine that cares for the souls of all mankind. It can only be attributed to the love of Christ dwelling within the heart of a believer. I can relate to this first passage, though the pain he describes did not come upon me when I first believed, but has been developed within me by the Holy Spirit over time.
In the first days after my conversion, I felt that I would not be able to live any longer. Walking on the street, I felt a physical pain for every man and woman who passed by. It was like a knife in my heart, so burning was the question of whether or not he or she was saved. If a member of the congregation sinned, I would weep for hours. The longing for the salvation of all souls has remained in my heart and the Communists are not excluded from it. Tortured for Christ, pg. 56.
For me it is not always a case of wondering whether or not others are saved. Often I know by their own words that they have rejected Christ. In many instances, it is family or friends, and the pain is all the greater. This passage was encouraging to me because Wurmbrand put into words what I feel in my heart, and it was a blessing to know I am not alone. It also reminds me that I cannot pick and choose whose salvation I should care about for it is all of mankind that God wants to redeem at the cross.
But in this passage Wurmbrand speaks only of the stranger passing in the street and a general love for mankind. On the very next page, he speaks of a love so divine is defies all human logic. He speaks of the love not of one’s family and friends, but of one’s enemies. He writes:
A minister who was horribly beaten was thrown into my cell. He was half dead, with blood streaming from his face and body. We washed him. Some prisoners cursed the Communists. Groaning, he said, “Please, don’t curse them! Keep silent! I wish to pray for them.” Tortured for Christ, pg. 57.
It was in prison that we found the hope of salvation for the Communists. It was there that we developed a sense of responsibility for them. It was in being tortured by them that we learned to love them. Tortured for Christ, pg. 58.
How does one love those who have beaten, starved, and tortured them, those who have deprived them of their physical freedom? Wurmbrand spent a total of 14 years in prison, his only crime preaching the love of Christ. As I read his description of the atrocities he suffered it is unfathomable that a human being could endure such hardship only to turn around and show love to those who caused it. It can only be attributed to the love of Christ dwelling in his heart.
As I read his account, I am convicted of the paucity of my own love for not only my enemies, but my friends and family as well. Given my regular reaction to those who have slighted me in some small way, would I respond to torture and hatred the way Wurmbrand did and other persecuted Christians do even today? Wurmbrand refered to 2 Corinthians 4:17, saying that the troubles he endured were “light and momentary” compared to the eternal glory he would experience in Heaven. I’ve used that same verse as encouragement, struggling with the concept that my own troubles are truly “light and momentary.” By comparison to what Wurmbrand and other persecuted Christians endure, my troubles are nothing. Yet I find it difficult to feel or show love towards those who cause them.
This morning I received an email that illustrated the divine love that comes from Christ. I am in charge of prayer requests at my church and the email I received was a prayer request for a young woman who had been hit by a drunk driver. She is in critical condition with serious brain injury and the doctors don’t know if she will regain speech or sight after the surgery they must perform. This first part of the prayer request is pretty normal; we often ask for prayer for our loved ones. It was the next sentence that struck me as being a wonderful example of divine love. “Please also pray for the young man that hit her. Not sure what his issues are that he was drunk at 5 pm. He and his buddy are fine, but need prayer about his/their life choices.”
Wurmbrand, no doubt, would not only pray for this young drunk driver, but would track him down and share with him the Gospel of Christ. Perhaps that is the response we should have as well. But I think even the thought to pray for one who has caused a loved one such pain and injury is evidence of the love of Christ in the heart of the person who sent me this prayer request. It is the type of love we should all aspire to.
In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48.
Richard Wurmbrand has done just as Jesus commanded here. We have the power to do the same if we rely on the Holy Spirit. It is only when we allow the love of Christ to dwell richly in our hearts that we can so. It is when we see all of humanity, including our enemies, as God sees them that we will be filled with the desire that they know His love. And that desire will override our natural tendency toward hatred and revenge. In the end, it is a love so divine that it defies all human logic that has saved the human race from itself.