By Ron Boyd-MacMillan, in Faith That Endures (Grand Rapids: Fleming Revell, 2006), p. 319-320.
I remember interviewing a former Muslim extremist in Egypt. He had converted to Christ in his early twenties and led a church for Muslim converts. This is illegal in Egypt, and the fellowship was betrayed to the police. Soon this young man found himself in prison. He was tortured. An electric cattle prod was pushed into his mouth. He was whipped and hung from the ceiling with his hands tied behind his back. But all this paled into insignificance compared to what other prisoners called “the experience.” He was pushed into a stone box, a cube about five feet square. No light. No latrine. And he was left there for a month, food being passed through a grate every few days. Most prisoners went mad as a result of “the experience”—but not him.
He found Christ there, and the words he used to describe his experience are description of the process of how persecution can bring one closer to God:
In great suffering you discover a different Jesus than you do in normal life. Normally we are able to hide from ourselves who we really are and what we are really like. The ego is well defended. But pain changes all that. Pain and suffering bring up to the surface all the weak points of your personality. You are too weak to mount the usual defenses, and you just have to gaze at what you are really like. I was a wreck in that cell. I was reduced to tears all the time. Crying, weeping, sobbing, wailing in the never-changing utter darkness.
I came face-to-face with how awful I really was. I saw all the horrible things I had done, all the horrible things I was. I kept seeing myself again and again. But just as I was about to collapse into complete despair and self-loathing—and probably die—an incredible realization burst into the cell like an exploding star. It was this: Jesus loved me even right then, as I sat in my own filth, weak, helpless and broken, empty and sinful. Even in that state, He loved me, and Christ rushed in and filled me, and the filling was so great because I was so empty.
1 Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
8 You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
9 my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you…
18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember
as I pour out my soul.
1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
4 Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.
1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion…
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.