Ed Hird, in his book Battle for the Soul of Canada gives us an interesting profile of Emperor Nero:
“The teenaged Roman Emperor Nero started off in AD 57 as an idealistic reformer, banning capital punishment. He forbade killing in circus contests, emphasizing instead athletics, poetry, and theater. He reduced taxes and permitted slaves to file complaints against unjust masters. But absolute power absolutely corrupted him.
Nero’s mother Agrippina rescued her son Nero from poverty by marrying her uncle, the Emperor Claudius. Agrippina managed to get Nero adopted not only as a son of Claudius, but the heir to the throne before Claudius’ actual sons. To show her gratitude, she poisoner her husband with tainted mushrooms. Nero became the emperor of the mighty Roman Empire at the age of 17.
One year after Nero became Emperor, he got tired of his mother’s interfering, and had her removed from the palace. Four years later she still kept meddling, so Nero rigged her boat to collapse on her. Being a strong swimmer, Agrippina refused to drown, so Nero had to send soldiers to finish the job. As murder can be rather addictive, Nero proceeded to present the gift of an ex-wife’s head to a future wife, and then kick another wife to death while she was pregnant.
Nero’s most memorable accomplishment was burning much of Rome to the ground to make room for a new palace. After six days of Rome burning, Nero discovered the value of blaming a small Jewish group called Christians. Their ringleader the Apostle Paul, was thrown into a Roman dungeon to prepare for his imminent beheading.”
If you were Paul, what would have been your thoughts? Would you have been thinking “God’s not fair”, or the proverbial stand-by, “why me.” Maybe we would cry out “where is the justice of God in all this?” How is it that despicable, perverted, sadists like Nero get to be Emperor and men like Paul have to die?
From jail Paul writes his young friend Timothy, and instead of his letter being filled with anger and talk of revenge, he says to him, “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and I am sure He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” 2 Timothy 1:12 I don’t know about you, but that verse kicks me hard when I begin to wallow in my discouragements. Do we really know the God that we say we believe in? When problems come along we tend to focus on them and do a lot of complaining instead of putting our trust in God. Paul says I know whom I believe in. His relationship with Jesus isn’t based on theological presuppositions, but on a personal relationship.
Often a feeling of shame compounds our problems, because we tend to blame ourselves even when things go wrong that we have no control over. Paul is not ashamed of his situation because he knows it is the power of evil that wrecks havoc on his live. In Romans 1:16 Paul writes, “ For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Shame points us inward and keeps us from the freedom that the gospel offers. We often feel silly saying that we are trusting in God to get us through situations when our friends and family are demanding we take action using their advice. It takes courage to say I am not ashamed of the gospel to lead and direct me.
Ed Hird has good insight into the power of shame to derail us from trusting fully on God. “Breaking the power of shame is absolutely necessary vital to living a free and healthy life. All of us have at least one Nero in our life that would like to entrap, enslave us and fill us with shame. It may be our relatives, our boss, our ex-spouse, our own personal addiction to fear, guilt. By breaking the power of shame and self-hatred we can live fully without regret.” The key for us is knowing whom we believe in.
We are not alone because God walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death and shame and guilt have no power over us because we know in whom we trust. When Jesus died for us, He died for our past sins, our present sins and our future sins. He died that our guilt would be nailed to the cross and the shame of how we had lived is lifted from our shoulders by the grace and love of God. Paul could stand firm against the Nero of his life because he trusted God with his very life, and we can stand firm against the Nero’s of our life as well.