The Danger of Apathy For a Christian: Why We Must Take Action Now

I recently found one of the most powerful secular quotes I have ever read with far-reaching implications for the whole of the Christian community in the world. I ask that you would read the following to see it’s context, so that the full power of it would sink into your heart. Over the past couple of years, I have purposefully sought out movies that have Christian themes in them. My requirements were that they be entertaining but not filled with cursing, pornography or over-the-top violence with which so many of today’s movies are saturated. My search has often led me to movies from many decades in the past, and one I found some time ago was Quo Vadis, a movie released in 1951 that dramatized the first major persecution of Christians under the Roman emperor Nero.

I have a number of things I could say about that movie, some good, some bad, and many observations regarding the bad acting that characterized so many movies of that time. :-) However, there was one giant piece of gold in that movie, and for me to tell you about it I will need to give you some context which will include some spoilers from the plot. Read on if you don’t mind.

One of the first characters we are introduced to in Quo Vadis is Gaius Petroneus, the most favored advisor of Emperor Nero. Though Nero loves his advice, clearly Petroneus has become little more than a sophisticated suck-up. He is capable of seeing the folly and incompetence of his emperor but chooses instead to flatter him and give him advice that contains subtle sarcasm undetectable by Nero.

As the story unfolds, Petroneus discovers that Nero plans to burn down most of the city of Rome for the sake of being a great “artist” and building a more beautiful city on top of it. Petroneus strongly opposes the plan and makes his feelings known to Nero, who still desires to burn Rome but doesn’t want to disappoint his most favored advisor. Soon, Nero implements his plan in secret, but neglects to realize that the carnage that would come from burning Rome would anger the people of the city as many of them die and lose all that they had owned. As the fires rage, the people demand blood.

Gaius Petroneus finds out by Nero’s own admission that his emperor was behind this great atrocity and finds himself disgusted by the man he has served for so long. He has an opportunity to reveal to the Roman mob that Nero was behind the burning of Rome and to recommend a Roman general to replace him as emperor. Instead, he remains silent, never speaking to the mob as Nero decides to blame the followers of Jesus Christ, barely 30 years since the birth of Christ’s church. Petroneus does tell Nero that if he blames the Christians he will solidify his place in history as a bloody tyrant, but the emperor does not listen. Soon, hundreds if not thousands of Christians are murdered in horrible ways that only the Roman style of “justice” can devise.

Nero’s favor towards Petroneus now wanes as Petroneus realizes he will soon most likely be put to death for his opposition to his emperor’s plan. As he considers his fast-approaching fate and the nature of his actions in the previous days, he says something quite powerful to his concubine. All Christians everywhere, especially in America, should pay close attention to the following admission:

“I could have ... set my seal upon the times. I did not. Do you know why? ...

Out of force of long habit I’ve become content only to be an amused cynic, a selfish onlooker, leaving others to shape the world.”

Today, we all have the opportunity to impress the seal of Jesus Christ upon the times. Are we doing that? Or are we, out of force of long habit becoming content to be selfish onlookers leaving others to shape the world?

Jesus said this of those who followed Him:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.

“Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)

So ... are we being salt and light, or are we hiding that light under a basket and showing ourselves fit for only being trampled underfoot? Let us really consider the implications of the quote from Gaius Petroneus. Could we be the same as him? If so, what will our fate be in the coming Kingdom of God?

Petroneus’ silence led to the horrible murder of countless Christians. What could our silence be leading towards?

“I could have ... set my seal upon the times. I did not. Do you know why? ...

Out of force of long habit I’ve become content only to be an amused cynic, a selfish onlooker, leaving others to shape the world.” -Gaius Petroneus, Quo Vadis


Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.