Last night I finished reading Quo Vadis, a beautiful love story set in the Roman empire during the reign of Nero. My good friend Cindi had recommended the book, having ordered it as part of her son’s homeschool history curriculum. Written well over 100 years ago, Quo Vadis tells the story of the Roman noble Marcus who falls in love with a young Christian girl, Lygia. In the course of Marcus’ pursuit of Lygia and his search to understand her faith, Rome is burned under Nero’s orders and the Christians blamed. Unimaginable persecution, torture and execution follow. Men, women, and children are fed to the lions and other wild beasts. Others are crucified. Others are used as human torches to light Nero’s wild parties. All for Roman entertainment. All because they placed allegiance in Christ above all.
In this novel, the Christians meet death with peaceful dignity, which inflames the Roman hatred against them all the more. They sing hymns. They rejoice “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:41) They know that “to die is gain.” (Philip. 1:21) They eagerly anticipate heaven. They are grateful for the privilege of martyrdom.
I think to myself–what if (perhaps when?) such persecution were to come here, to me? Would I stand? Would I claim Christ in light of such torture? Could I joyfully embrace death? I want to think I could and would. But what about my children? Wouldn’t I denounce Christ to save them? But what kind of salvation would that be?
Hard thoughts. Oh, for faith to stand…
Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned ; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated– the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith… Heb 11:36-39
(By the way, despite the solemn nature of this post, I really do recommend the novel. It reads slowly at first, and I wouldn’t read it for its theology necessarily, but on the whole, a wonderful, intriguing read.)