Polycarp – God is not an airbag.

Yesterday was the saints day of a very ancient character, well he would be very ancient if he were still alive, but he isn’t – alive that is.

Anyway, his name was Polycarp, which is a good name isnt it. Better than many other saints names I cant help thinking, even if it does contain a slightly unfortunate anagram within it.

Why do I mention Polycarp?

He is just a superb figure. In the first place he was one of the very early Christians, only second generation, having been a disciple of John the Apostle – the favoured Apostle of the Celtic church.

Secondly, he was clearly a man of straightforward opinions, apparently when asked by the leader of the Marcionite sect to recognise him – he replied ‘I recognise you, yes, I recognise the son of Satan.’ Which is fairly straight talking as straight talking goes.

But despite his forthright views, he wasnt one particularly to cause divisions, although in later years the disagreement between eastern and western tradtions about liturgy, tonsure and perhaps most importantly the religious calendar would cause great strife, Polycarp who obviously followed the John/eastern tradition managed to get along just fine with the Bishop of Rome, who insisted his church follow the western/Catholic dates.

Polycarp was eventually martyred, aged in his eighties, when he was burned at the stake and stabbed.The accounts of his death tell that the flames did not harm him rather they made him glow, so instead the soldiers stabbed him to death. While God may be credited with saving him from the flames, he didnt save him from the knife.

He is a good example of how Christians cannot always expect to be saved from suffering and hardship, for any of us being stabbed to death while stood in the middle of a fire is not a terribly pleasant way to go, and Polycarp bore it with remarkable dignity, and stoicism for want of a better word.

I think he reminds us that we cannot expect to go through life with no suffering, we cannot expect to live and die in luxury and happiness just because we follow Jesus, rather we should perhaps expect the opposite.

Bad stuff happens to good people, God doesnt always rescue us from hardship, he is not an airbag. Yeah, I said it, God is not an airbag. My new motto.

Thanks for your example Polycarp, here’s to all those who are suffering today, may you know peace just as Polycarp did.

Read more about the old boy here.


3 thoughts on “Polycarp – God is not an airbag.

  1. > He is a good example of how Christians cannot always expect to be saved from suffering and hardship

    This concerns me. Christians often say “God will provide”, and we’re told to have faith that he will give us our daily bread, add ‘all these things’ to us, and protect us and our family. People talk about the faithfulness of God’s provision.

    Yet the truth is that there are Christians dying of lack of food and clothing. There are Christians being killed in war zones, and by criminals (as well as martyred).

    Given all that, what can we trust God for?

  2. I have come to the painful conclusion after years of being told by churches to expect ‘blessing’, meaning health, wealth and well being, that this is a load of bunk.

    To be honest I should have worked that out a long time ago, the other church traditions all have a long history of the concept of suffering as a part of the Christian life, I think part of the issue is that there has been a desperation to make this religion palatable to the wealthy, when its really a religion of the margins and the outcasts.

    We’ve known a little hardship in our lives, and I can honestly say I think that the hard times are the most meaningful spiritually.

    It is my belief that Christians need to trust that God will not just send them to heaven, but that he will stay with them even as they walk through their own personal hell.

    1. I think this is a major problem in the message of almost every church I’ve ever been to, and it’s the stuff you tell children to stop them from being frightened at the world – that God will protect them, and it simply isn’t true (or at least not true in the sense in which it’s meant and taken, it may be true in other ways).

      You say that we can trust God to stay with us, and I like that a lot. It reminds me of what Moses said, which is something I find myself saying too: “If you will not come with us, do not send us up from here”. To Moses, God’s presence was more important than life.

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