When Your Religious Rights Are Taken Away

In 1995, Robert Lee Brock, a prisoner in Virginia, wanted to be transferred from prison into a mental institution. In order to achieve his goal, he decided to sue himself. He claimed that his crime was committed while he was drunk, which violated his religious beliefs, thereby violating his civil liberties.

Brock then sued himself for $5 million—but to make matters worse, he claimed that the state should pay the legal expenses because he was behind bars and without an income. Fortunately, the case was dismissed and Brock didn’t get his transfer.

Brock’s case makes a mockery of religious liberties. But it does beg the question: how should Christians respond when their rights are violated?

The answer—according to today’s reading—might disturb you.

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2 Kings 8:1-9:13
Acts 16:16-40
Psalm 143:1-12
Proverbs 17:26


2 Kings 8:1-9:13. Elisha asked for a double-portion (the firstborn’s share) of Elijah’s power—and God certainly answered his request. Unlike his predecessor, Elisha enjoyed the favor of not only Israel’s king, but of the surrounding nations as well. In this case, the king of Aram sought Elisha’s prophetic insight.

In Elisha’s story, two unGodlike actions occur:

God sends a famine to Israel. Between the modern-day “prophets” who perpetually march around downtown cities foretelling the gloom and doom, and people who proclaim God never disciplines us, we read that God can and does send pain and frustration. Romans 8:20-21 tells us that God subjected his creation to frustration in the hope that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” In other words, the frustration we feel as a result of things like famine is designed drive us to the freedom that only God gives.

God seemingly deceives Ben-Hadad. The New Bible sheds some light on this somewhat troubling story:

The reason for the false message is left obscure, but verse 10 probably expresses the tension between what Elisha knew of Ben-Hadad’s illness and what he knew of Hazael’s intentions: the sickness itself was not fatal, but Ben-Hadad would die nevertheless because Hazael planned to murder him and take the throne. Elisha did not say that God had chosen Hazael to be king in Ben-Hadad’s place, merely that he would be, and that he would cause great suffering in Israel.

In verse 18 of chapter 8, we read what seems to be a somewhat harsh assessment of King Jehoram’s seemingly obscure wife: “He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for he married a daughter of Ahab.”

We’ll read more about her in chapter 11, but her name was Athaliah, and she was indeed, incredibly evil. She was the daughter of Ahab, and although we’re not sure if her mother was Jezebel, she definitely followed in the woman’s footsteps.

Acts 16:16-40. The beating that Paul and Silas received was particularly brutal. The Bible Background Commentary explains:

Unless the accused were Roman citizens, they were normally beaten before the trial as a means of securing evidence; in practice, lower-class persons had few legal protections. Roman magistrates’ attendants, called lictors, carried rods in bundles, and with these rods they beat the foreigners here. Sometimes, as here, the accused were stripped first. Public beatings served not only to secure evidence but also to humiliate those beaten and to discourage their followers.

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How do you respond to unjust suffering? Do you:

  • Blame others?
  • Blame God?
  • Allow the resulting bitterness to drive you away from God?
  • Whine and complain?
  • Sulk?
  • Call a lawyer?

How you respond says a great deal about who you really are.

Paul and Silas’s response to persecution astounds me. The two men are severely beaten (see verse 23), thrown into prison, and then their feet are fastened into a very uncomfortable set of stocks.

And how did they respond? They prayed and sang hymns to God. Then, after they were miraculously freed, they took the time to share the gospel with their jailer and his family.

Scripture gives us a quite different perspective on religious persecution that what we commonly see today:

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

“But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4:13-14).

To add balance to our discussion, let me add that later, Paul appealed to Caesar for his unjust treatment—but I can’t escape (pardon the pun!) the way the two men responded. The salvation of their jailer and his family was more important than escaping to freedom.

Had Jesus not laid down his rights and agreed to be tried in a kangaroo court, and then wrongly nailed to a cross, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to receive the gift of eternal life.

When we respond in love when our rights being taken away, we look a lot like Jesus.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Describe a time when you’ve experienced God’s redemptive judgment.
  3. To what extent should believers demand their rights?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.


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2 responses to “When Your Religious Rights Are Taken Away

  1. Mike:

    Thanks for the reminder about God’s bigger purposes in our lives, even through suffering. I sometimes get the feeling that I, and other Christians, think God’s main job is to keep me happy. And when he doesn’t I wonder if he loves me or if I have done something wrong. And then I have never suffered for my beliefs like they did.

    I didn’t understand the quote about “Unless you were a Roman citizen . . .” in the Insights section. Am I misreading or misunderstanding that explanation? Is the point that Paul was beaten after trial because he was a Roman citizen or that they did not know he was a Roman citizen? Or?

  2. In this instance, it appears that Paul didn’t mention he was a Roman citizen. Later in Acts, though, he does. Who knows why he didn’t mention it?

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