Paul makes a very provocative statement in 1 Corinthians 15:19:
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”
There are many interpretations of this statement. One of the ones that holds the most weight with maturing Christians is that if Christ has not been raised from the dead, we are most to be pitied because all of our sufferings for His sake have been in vain. This is the tack that John Piper takes in his famous “Live to Die” address from the 2001 Shepherds Conference. It is also reflected in the message of the book, Tortured for Christ, by Richard Wurmbrand.
We are promised in 2 Timothy 3:12 that if we desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus we will be persecuted. Therefore - the thinking goes - since real Christians should all face persecution in some way, shape, or form, we would then have the most pitiable lives of all if it turns out that Jesus was never the real deal, because we have suffered so badly, even when it was completely unnecessary.
This creates a bit of problem, though, for some believers who don’t really suffer so badly under persecution. We are promised that persecution will come, and even in a nation like the United States of America - which was founded by Christians on Christian principles, and which provides some of the most robust religious freedom in the world - we do in fact face some persecution. But the persecution most of us face falls mainly into the category of “social” persecution.
My job was once threatened by my allegedly Christian (and Baptist to boot!) boss at one job if I didn’t quit talking about religious topics (I didn’t stop, by the way, and I never lost my job over it). At another job, the person sitting next to me got so mad that I disliked the Avengers: Endgame movie due to the homosexual grief counseling scene that she started yelling at me, claiming that she had friends who were gay, and that I had no right to be mad about such things.
But if this kind of persecution is the worst that I am to face in this life, can I really be said to be of all people most to be pitied if Christ is not who He claimed to be? Well, not really, because I have a very joyful life, with a quiver (and van) full of beautiful children. I know the difference between things that matter and things that don’t. The commands of God - even if He didn’t really exist - are pretty wise anyway, and cause you to live a long a fruitful life. All that’s a pretty good trade for just a few angry people who don’t like to hear me talking about my faith.
That’s why I don’t really believe that the reason why we would be most pitiable can be fully summed up in the fact that we suffer persecution for nothing. To be sure, it’s a factor in why we would be pitied - and for some people, it is really huge (just go read that Tortured for Christ book if you haven’t already!).
Instead, I believe that the reason we should be most pitied if for this life only we have faith in Christ is because we would have so much to lose. And no, I am not talking about “heaven” here - or not directly anyway, as in some pie-in-the-sky place where all of your wildest wishes come true. I am talking about Jesus Christ Himself: our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Lord, and King.
We Christians have the absolute most perfect, wonderful, and delightful God that can be imagined. No, seriously, actually try to imagine a God greater than the One Who has been revealed to us in the Scriptures - the One Who has been revealed to us by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-3). If you can think of any way that He can be better than how He has been revealed to us, then you have either just missed some part of the Bible that actually describes Him the way you have imagined, or you are trying to weaken Him in some way in an attempt to excuse some pet sin in your life.
And so, because the God of the Bible is so absolutely magnificent - so far above any and all other gods or rival philosophies - we actually have the most to lose if it all just ended up being a human fiction. The God-hating evolutionist homosexuals will end up being tormented in hellfire forever if they are wrong and we Christians are right, but at least they will finally know that this amazing God exists. Whereas, if we Christians die in this world and wake up to the pleasures of the Elysian Fields of Greek mythology, we will still be most pitiable, because the gods of the Greeks are infinitely pathetic in comparison to the awesome God of the Christian Scriptures. We will weep forever in any version of heaven crafted by pagans if our Jesus has not been raised from the dead by the power of His own indestructible Life!
Don’t you dare try to protect yourself from this pity! Your confidence in Christ (we call that “faith”) should be strong enough that you are willing to suffer whatever the world throws at you for believing such “foolishness” (in their eyes). Never be afraid of what kind of persecution speaking the Truth in love will bring.
Likewise, you should be returning to the Fountain of the Word often enough to get a glimpse of this amazing God of ours high and lifted up, so that your understanding of Him - and your delight in Him - would make you most pitiable if you ended up being wrong. That’s not a foolish thing to do; that’s one of the most wise things that anyone can aspire to do.