Question from a reader:
I wrote a story several years ago and had passed it around to family and friends. As time has gone by I’ve now seen it in print and credited to another person. Every time I see this story, I feel cheated. How do I handle this injustice?
Answer from Randy Alcorn:
What strikes me is how counter-culture and counter-instinct the gospel really is. Paul says to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 6, to persuade them not to sue a brother or sister, “why not rather be wronged?” We tend to think there’s nothing worse than being wronged. God, on the other hand, sees it as both secondary in importance and inevitable in a world under the curse of sin, and even a great opportunity for Him to work in us and through us.
During one of our lawsuits, I had to sit in court for 30 days while abortion clinic employees testified under oath that we had done outlandish things that we would never under any circumstances do. They pointed to us and testified things like “They called the girls ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’, told them to f-off” Utterly and absolutely false, using words not even in our vocabularies. Not only have I never done that, the thought sickens me. If I heard someone else do something like that I would have confronted them on the spot (as I once did a man who raised his voice, telling him to leave if he couldn’t stay under the Spirit’s control) and apologized on their behalf. But it never happened.
To say the least, it was embarrassing, at times excruciating, to have these lies said in court and repeated in the newspapers. (Why should it surprise me that people who kill children for a living would lie—Jesus said Satan was a liar and a murderer from the beginning, John 8—his lies are essential to carrying out his murders.) I thought, people will actually believe this stuff. In fact, the jury did believe them. Hence the $8.2 million dollar judgment against us.
But worse, many Christians believed all the false accusations reported in the newspaper. I was speaking to a group of pastors and in the Q & A, one of them said, “Instead of screaming at women, spitting on them and pulling their hair, have you ever thought of just loving them?” I was speechless. I was out there precisely because I did love them, and spoke to them only in the most caring way, asking them for their own sake to let their babies live. I have a very high view of women, we opened our home to a pregnant girl who I treated with the utmost respect (she gave up her baby for adoption and came to Christ while living with us), etc. I said to this pastor, “I’m amazed you would talk from your pulpit about ‘the liberal media bias’ then turn right around and believe whatever the media says. You never came to me and asked me if it was true. Rather than give me the benefit of the doubt, you believed the false accusations of people who kill children for a living.”
In other words, cutting to the heart of it, all this was a great blow to my pride. I was a respected pastor and author. I wanted people to think highly of me. I was concerned about my reputation—but God was concerned about my character. The truth was, the praise of men was important to me. I came to appreciate in new ways some passages I’d taught but not really been tested in:
Jesus said, “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44)
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God (1 Cor. 4:5).
It was then that I began daily to think about God as “the Audience of One.” The verse that got me through those days in court was “Entrust yourself to him who judges justly.” It’s in a larger context that begins with the command to, guess what, submit:
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Pet 2:18-23).
One of the toughest things was that I was raising two daughters whom I respect deeply. When the first was born the Christian doctor said to me in the delivery room, “Bad news, dad. It’s a girl.” I looked at him without appreciation and said, “I prayed we’d have a girl.” A girl was what I wanted and I’ve never had a moment’s regret that God gave me girls instead of boys. Because I’ve been outspoken in my support of women (trying to be true to Scripture’s words about church leaders, while stretching it to its limits), it was a particularly hard blow to be pigeonholed as “anti-women” because I opposed abortion. In fact, my concern about abortion didn’t start with a burden for children, but a burden for women. That put me on the board of our first Crisis Pregnancy Center in the Pacific Northwest, back when there were only a dozen in the whole country. Well, I discovered that my advocacy of women was also a point of pride for me—and God took that “badge of honor” away from me too.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt 5:11-12).
God tells us that when we don’t receive the rewards of men—including public recognition and financial rewards—then we should rejoice because He who is a just rewarder will reward us himself with what is not fleeting, but eternal. We see exactly the same thing in Luke 14:13-14: But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Some people will never know on earth the truth about what happened to me and my family many years ago, just as some will never know that you wrote that wonderful story that you’ve often not been credited for. But God knows. And when we’re thinking rightly, what else matters? In fact, there’s an extra thrill in knowing that He makes a point of rewarding us precisely when we’re not recognized by men.
Lest pride also enter into this through the back door (as well as the front), I always remind myself, “Just as people think poorly of me in certain areas God approves, in many other areas people think highly of me when God doesn’t approve, because he knows my heart.” If I could snap my fingers to make people know that I’m better than they thought, or so I would get credit for what I haven’t, but this also required divulging the whole truth about my sinful thoughts and actions (showing I’m worse than they thought and taking away some of the credit I’ve been given), would I do it? No way. I trust God with the whole truth about me, but the world or church at large? Nope.
We have no choice but to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. There’s no way to avoid it. But we do have a choice as to whether to set up our own judgment seats over others, and we also have the choice as to whether we will put ourselves under the judgment seats of others. They may judge us, but their judgment has no power over us unless we choose to value their judgment (including not only their bad opinion but their lack of knowledge and appreciation for what we’ve done).
Paul says in Galatians 1, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” As a minister, he says, “we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts” (2 Tim 2:4). The perceptions of men don’t matter—God sees who we are in the dark, when no one else is watching. Every soldier “wants to please his commanding officer.” We place ourselves under the control, under the lordship of those we’re trying to please and impress. But this makes those people into false gods, idols. And God is famous for bringing down the high places of our hearts, isn’t he? I’m so grateful He does that.
So, dear sister (and this is nothing new to you, I know—it is meant only to reinforce what you already know), you have in fact not received credit where credit was due. This is not right, which means our God is bound by his own attributes (not by our wishes) to one day make it right. The present wrong is because of a combination of people’s ignorance (i.e. lack of omniscience) and injustice. But here’s the good news: God is neither ignorant nor unjust. He knows exactly what’s going on here. And—precisely—because some men will not reward you for your efforts, God will. Which means that you will be—far—better off for having endured that injustice than if you’d received due credit for it.
As I’ve often thought of the abortion clinic, in the words of Joseph to his brothers, “you intended it for evil, but God intended it for good.” I wouldn’t trade the opportunity to learn that God is my Audience of One, that I must trust him, that public opinion cannot bear the weight of my trust, that He owns everything and I own nothing, that heaven not earth is my home, and that my reputation is completely secondary to His work in and through my character.
So, you and I are to “entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly.” And if it takes difficult situations to teach us that, so be it—because if we never learned it we’d truly be impoverished. And we’d lose out both on character growth today and eternal reward tomorrow. So, when we pray that God will make us more Christlike, perhaps we shouldn’t be so eager for Him to remove and rectify the very things He’s sent in answer to that prayer.