One of the divine mysteries of the Kingdom of God is how the Lord can take negative things and in His unique redemptive way turn them around and use them for good.
The cross is the ultimate example of how the enemy sought to destroy the Son of God, and yet from this horrible trial of the crucifixion, we see Kingdom Victory emerge as God brings redemption to those who believe on Christ through it.
The story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis is another example. He ultimately ends up in prison sometime after being sold off by his brothers who betrayed him. However, he is prepared in that trying situation to be a redemptive leader who actually ends up rescuing his brothers—the emerging nation of Israel—when he is brought up into a place of leadership in Egypt after the Lord lifts him out of his humbling situation.
Trials and tribulations are never enjoyable and shouldn’t be made light of; however, there can be redemption for them in God’s Kingdom, and this can breathe hope when we are having to endure difficult times.
Patrick of Ireland
Known popularly as St. Patrick, the historic missionary to Ireland also had to endure a unique and difficult situation. However, it ended up being used redemptively and became a time of important missionary training for him.
Patrick was taken prisoner to Ireland after being captured during a raid in Roman Britain by barbarians when he was in his later teens.
While a slave—unfortunately, this fallen world’s long hard history is riddled with such oppression and Patrick points out that thousands of Britons were captured and enslaved—he was forced and immersed into learning about the culture, language and society of Ireland.
After some time in that land, forlorn and alone and being forced to take care of pigs, he called out to God and experienced a conversion to Christ. Though he had been raised in a Celtic Christian home, he did not come into his own saving relationship with Christ until this.
Sometime after his conversion, he was given a vision of how to escape, and was shown a ship sitting just off shore further down the coast. He hiked his way to it and was granted passage if he’d take care of the dogs on board. He returned to Roman Britain and was welcomed as one who’d come back from the dead.
Sometime later on, he had another vision which would lead him back to the Emerald Isle as a missionary. Through this vision, the Lord called him to return as a minister of the Gospel. He heard the voice of the Irish calling him: “Come back oh holy youth and walk amongst us once more…” After some time of preparation he did return, this time as a missionary.
He had been prepared and trained through his earlier captivity, much like the account of Joseph we read in the Old Testament. His previous immersion amongst Ireland’s people, language, and culture, even though it was a severe trial, had actually prepared him to reach into that unique culture and effectively communicate the Gospel to that people group.
The Lord took the evil imposed on him and turned it around and brought redemption out of it and used it for good.
Patrick became a powerfully used historic evangelist to Ireland, leading many to Christ through signs and wonders, and starting many little churches. This, however, does not mean it was all easy going: he faced many trials, difficulties and persecutions, but the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit prevailed and his difficult earlier trials were redeemed! However, he never forgot his fallen sinful roots and the merciful redemption he received, and wrote in his confession during his latter years: “I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many…”. His words seem to echo Paul’s, as he himself wrote in his later epistles: “I am the worst of sinners…” (1 Tim 1:15) Even though Paul was used powerfully by God, he never forgot that it is by sheer grace and mercy he was saved, and all the glory goes to the Lord!
More Celtic Examples
Patrick helped establish the Celtic Church in Ireland, which was instrumental in reaching out to other people groups, and it is important to note that Patrick was not Roman Catholic.
"Patrick and Columcille [the missionary later inspired by him] were both Celtic believers and had no direct ties to the Roman Church" says Ruth Tucker, who has a PhD in History, in her missionary history tome From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. She shared on this subject at Fuller Theological Seminary when I was a student there and was an impressive speaker.
It was many centuries later when Roman Catholicism was imposed on the Emerald Island. It was actually the Pope and the King of England—Ole Blighty always seeking to rule over its northern neighbors back then—who conspired together to impose Catholicism on Ireland as a way to hold sway over the land and its people. Ireland’s original Christian roots are thus not Roman Catholic but rather of the Celtic Christian faith.
Celtic Christians were distinct from Roman Catholicism and were at times actually at odds with them: Celtic Missionaries didn't pay heed to the parish system in Catholicism and were seen by them as loose canons going wherever they pleased to evangelize. Celtic Christians, furthermore, believed in justification by faith through grace, regularly studied the Scriptures, and ministers were not forced to be celibate but were free to marry or not, depending on their own choice; they were missionary-minded and focused, and sought to evangelize and minister the Gospel. This is in contrast to Catholicism, which developed an unbiblical system of penance and works for salvation, and would sometimes convert via the sword along with politically imposing their will on other people groups.
Celtic Christians and the
Conversion of the Scandinavians
Vikings later began to raid the shores of Ireland and the British Isles, and Celtic Christians, as well as monks and ministers, were often taken captive back to Scandinavia.
This oppressive situation was also turned around redemptively as the Celtic believers in turn began witnessing to, and evangelizing their captors, and converting the Scandinavians to Christianity even while being held captive by them, much in the same way that early believers in the Roman Empire, including slaves and other low people of society, often witnessed and won over their captors and more distinguished hearers, demonstrating the verse "...the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength" (1 Cor. 1:25). Meaning, as Paul says, the Lord often uses the weak things of the world to paradoxically carry out his purposes.
Since the Scandinavians saw no political threat from these Celtic Christians, as they would from the Roman Catholic Church whose forced conversions often coincided with taking over lands, the Scandinavians were open to the Gospel message from the Celtic believers and many were converted this way, as historian Ruth Tucker notes as well.
Viking King Converted
A Viking king set about raiding the Celtic regions. He heard there was a fortune teller of some kind on one of the Scilly islands off the coast of the British Isles. He set out to find this fortune teller and find out about his future.
However, the so-called fortune teller was actually a prophetic Christian minister of Celtic stock who was off the coast of Cornwall.
Olaf Tryggvason received a prophecy upon his visit which told him he would be wounded in battle, carried back to his ship on his shield by his soldiers, and then would call out to God and turn to Christ, and take the Gospel back to Norway.
After it all turned out just as it had been foretold to him, Tryggvason once again visited the prophet, who then baptized and sent him back to Norway to share the Gospel.
He was a Viking warrior who may not have ridded himself of all his warrior ways right off to our modern, more advanced liking, but it was a different more violent age with countries that fought savagely with one another back then—oh yeah, nothing’s changed and we are not more advanced, that stuff still goes on today, doesn’t it, even at this very moment—nevertheless, he helped stem idolatry and furthered the spread of Christianity back home.
The Holy Spirit was the power furthering the Gospel’s spread through history regardless of the imperfections at times of the people and of difficult faith-testing situations. If God didn’t use imperfect people, he’d have no one to use. Sinners saved by grace is the redemptive thread weaving through the historic narrative of Christ’s redemption throughout time. Though saved, the yet-abiding human weaknesses are overshadowed by the redemption and power that flows from on high to those that open their hearts to Jesus.
Indeed, he IS ABLE to redeem difficult and trying situations and this can give us hope when we endure trials.
The Apostle Paul, who endured plenty of trials himself, says in Romans 15:13:
“I pray that God, who gives hope, will bless you with complete joy and peace because of your faith, and the power of the Holy Spirit fill you with hope.”
More of our Resources on the Celtic Christian Legacy:
*The Legacy of the True Historical Patrick by Richard Bennet, who is a former Catholic priest. Commentary and notes on the theft of Patrick’s historic legacy by the Catholic Church.