Sigmund Freud introduced us to psychological complexes – tenacious ideas that get planted in a person’s psyche. Several complexes have been identified: the inferiority complex, the persecution complex, and others. The martyr complex, for example, is the idea that all of one’s suffering is the result of his righteousness. “They hate me because I am good,” goes the thinking.

A complex works like a magnet. It draws in bits of evidence, actual or imaginary, that might seem to support it. Eventually, the martyr complex causes a person to begin creating his own evidence to prove martyrdom to himself. Of course the ultimate proof for a person with this complex is to be killed. A person who straps a bomb to himself, walks into a crowded arena of infidels and kills everyone including himself no doubt has the martyr complex and thinks of himself as a martyr, but he is not a martyr.

True martyrs do not have martyr complexes. The word “martyr” means “witness.” Martyrs bear witness, in both their living and their dying, to something greater than themselves. Suicide bombers bear witness to nothing but hopelessness and hatred.

Furthermore, true martyrs do not seek suffering, although they are willing to face it. Seeking to suffer, even for a good cause, is not martyrdom; it is masochism. Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane perfectly reveals the heart of a true martyr: “Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” He did not seek suffering, but his willingness to face it bears witness to the depth of God's love for mankind. Of course, it is not only the death of Christ but also his life, before and after death, that bears such a witness.

The nine who were murdered at a Wednesday night prayer meeting in Emmanuel AME Church, in Charleston, South Carolina were true martyrs. They did not seek suffering and death on that evening in 2015. They were merely living lives of faithful discipleship. Their deaths bear witness to their faith, but only because their lives already were doing so. And so shall their resurrection.

“You shall be my witnesses (martyrs),” Jesus said (Acts 1:8).

Faith, Hope, Love,


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