Seems like a strange guy to have as a hero, huh?
I recently finished "Fear No Evil," the autobiographical story of this fellow - Natan Sharansky. His is a story of faith and sacrifice, persecution and brutality. He is a Russian Jew and I wish to God that I was more like him.
Sharansky was thrown into the Russian Gulag under Brezhnev in 1977. His crime? Telling the world about the KGB's persecution of Jews in his homeland. He'd spend the next nine years in and out of work camps, punishment cells, and maximum security prisons. He underwent countless hunger strikes and mental battles with the KGB, all the while understanding that there was no actual evidence that he'd committed any crime.
It seems like men like this, like Jim Elliot and his friends, are the last of their breed. Why are the most famous Christians dickheads (see Robertson, Pat; Falwell, Jerry)? Does it require martyrdom for someone to rise above that? Yes, I know, Billy Graham is a stud, but he's long since out of our daily parlance.
Why don't we have any more heroes? Sure, there are Christians all over the world that are doing amazing things for the cause of Christ, that are sacrificing themselves every day in the name of our Father. I wish their names were on our tongues, rather than Falwell and his ilk.
This may be crude, but does martyrdom have its place? I mean, is it necessary? Nathan from Reformation Theology says:
The famous observation of Tertullian that, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” has a depth of insight which is all too often lost on believers today. We have no trouble thinking of persecution and martyrdom as a great obstacle to the spread of the gospel which will not, however, be successful in hindering Church growth. We would have no problem affirming that the blood of the martyrs is a hurdle which, by God’s grace, can be overcome. But to say that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church is an altogether different concept. If martyrdom is a surmountable obstacle to the growth of the Church, then the Church might advance just as well, even better, without it. But if the blood of the martyrs truly is the seed of the Church, then without it, the Church does not grow.
Men like Polycarp aspired to martyrdom. They considered it the ultimate blessing.
I know this post is all over the place, and for that I apologize. But I get so worked up about this stuff. I started a Church History class at our church last night, and martyrdom was one of the main topics of conversation.
Yes, Sharansky was a Jew, not a Christian. And yes, he wasn't actually martyred. But had it come to that, he would have considered it an honor. He spent nine years with the threat of rasstrel, or a firing squad, hanging over his head. It was always a reality. He may not have been actually shot, but he certainly was willing, and he certainly suffered.