For the living, Death is a gigantic leap into the unknown. The Bible describes it as our last enemy. People seldom face Death without some misgivings. But for the Christian martyr Death is also a release from the torture they are facing. It is their doorway to glory. As their pain fades away and they enter eternity, everything changes…
It was like gazing into the sun, only more so. Lydia had never seen so much light. It almost knocked her over. Yet it didn’t hurt her eyes like she would have expected. Instead, as her eyes adjusted, she started to see people.
As their features became clearer, she saw a few people she had known while on earth. But they had changed. They were almost… transparent? No that wasn’t the word. They had form and features. Yet she could see through them? She couldn’t put it into words, and she was too bewildered to try.
But she sensed clearly that she was welcome, that they had been waiting for her. In fact, she realized that she had come home. She belonged here in a way that she had never belonged on earth. Everyone was smiling, waving, reaching out hands to her in welcome.
Then she realized that she wasn’t alone. Irene was close beside her. And others were joining them, blinking their eyes as the light hit them. Fresh from the trauma of the flames, the group clung together at first. But the human need for security drained away as they gradually acclimatized to their new surroundings.
Lydia’s second impression was the sound. The cheers mixed with vibrant music in a beautiful chaos of harmony. Some were crying out in welcome, some were singing, some were dancing. The sheer exuberance of the welcome was overwhelming.
But Lydia’s strongest impression was the love the seemed to flood from every nook and cranny. Back on earth a large crowd had gathered to enjoy the spectacle of twenty people being burned in one large fire. The spectators were filled with hatred. They would have torn them limb from limb but for the soldiers surrounding them. The contrast couldn’t have been greater between the hatred they had faced an hour ago and the boundless love welcoming them here.
Lydia would have cried. But she was too happy to cry.
The contrasts between time and eternity are so overwhelming that an entire book wouldn’t cover it. It was no wonder that it took the martyrs some time to catch their breath and orient to their new surroundings.And this was only the beginning…
Perhaps the most difficult part of stepping into eternity is learning how to handle living in a state with no past, and no future. The earthly barrier of “now” that stands between the past and the future on earth will be inexplicably expanded in eternity. All three elements of time will be blended together in an incomprehensible state of utter timelessness.
Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few. –Solomon, Ecc. 5:2
Job was a good man. So good that God called him blameless and upright. But one day Satan went to visit God, and God told him about Job’s goodness.
Satan wasn’t impressed. He sneered at God’s description. “Oh, sure. It’s no wonder he serves you. You’ve put a hedge around him so that I can’t get at him. And you’ve made him rich—he’s the richest man in the east. Let me take away his blessings and then we’ll see what he’s really like! He’ll curse you to your face.”
“Okay,” God replied. “I’ll let you test him. You can do anything you want to his belongings, just don’t touch him.”
Satan was sure he could knock Job off his pedestal.
It all happened on the same day. First a servant came running to tell Job that a band of raiders had swooped in and stolen his oxen—all five hundred teams—and killed the men who were plowing with them. They also took five hundred donkeys from a pasture beside the field they were plowing. But that wasn’t all. Before the first man was finished talking a second man came running up to Job. “Fire fell from heaven,” he said. “It burned up all your sheep and the shepherds.”
Seven thousand sheep, gone in the snap of a finger. But Job had no time to even think about it, because a third man rushed up. “Master, the Chaldeans have stolen your camels and killed the herders!”
Three thousand camels gone, on top of all the other losses, and in the distance, Job saw another man running and waving his arms. He had just lost all his wealth. What else could have gone wrong? He soon learned.
The man collapsed at his feet, weeping. “Master,” he said. “Your ten children were feasting in your oldest son’s home and a storm came up. The house collapsed and all your children are dead.”
It was too much. How could a man handle such devastation? Job’s cry of anguish came from deep inside. He tore off the robe he was wearing. He shaved his head and fell to the ground in utter grief. His servants didn’t know what to say. They too were devastated. But to their astonishment, Job began to pray. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” The servants looked at each other, shocked.
Satan went back to see God. His plan had failed, but he had another idea.
God looked at him. “Job is still blameless and upright, despite your actions against him.” Satan sneered again. “Sure, a man will give everything he has to save his life. But if you touch his body, you’ll see what he’s like. He’ll curse you to your face!”
God looked at him. “Okay, he is in your hand. Do what you want, but don’t kill him.”
This was what Satan wanted and he went directly back to earth to find Job. He struck him with the most painful affliction he could think of. He covered Job with painful boils; from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. Everything Job did hurt. He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t sit, he couldn’t lay down—he even had boils in his mouth. Finally, in agony, he sat in the ash pile—the softest place he could think of and scraped the boils with a broken piece of pottery.
But Satan wasn’t done. He had thought of another way to increase Job’s agony. Job’s wife broke under the pressure. She walked up to Job and lashed out at him. “What good does it do you to be such a good person? Curse God and die! How can you keep your faith in Him when He treats you like this?”
Job looked at her a moment before replying. “Your words are foolish,” he said. “Why should we accept good things from God but reject adversity when He sends it?”
Satan wasn’t about to give up now. It had become a personal vendetta for him. He came up with another plan. But first he let Job stew for a while.
Job had three close friends—men that he trusted, even though they were younger than he was. When he saw them coming to visit him, his heart must have warmed a little. They sat down beside him and mourned with him. For a whole week no one said anything. Then Satan lit the fuse on his final bombshell.
Job could take no more. “Why didn’t I die when I was born?” The question came from the depths of his heart, and it seemed like a dam had burst.
“Why wasn’t my mother barren? Why wasn’t I stillborn or miscarried? Why doesn’t God kill me and put me out of my misery?”
And he wept.
Eliphaz, Job’s best friend took a deep breath and started to talk. “Can I tell you the truth? You have taught many others; can I teach you?” He paused and looked at Job searchingly. “Why are you in such despair? You have told others that God doesn’t destroy the innocent. You need to accept what He sends you.”
Job had expected sympathy. He caught right away what Eliphaz was telling him.
“I surely thought that my friends would be kind to me.” Bitterness filled his voice. “I’m innocent and you know it! Admit it, rather than undercutting me.”
He looked at the sky and addressed God. “Why do you bother with me? Have I sinned?” His voice rose. “Well then, pardon my transgression and let me die!”
Bildad, his next friend, shook his head. “God is fair and just. Your children must have sinned that God destroyed them. God would never have destroyed them otherwise. And if you would repent rather than blaming God, He would heal you. God doesn’t punish righteous people.”
Job shrank visibly, and his reply was muted and cloaked in despair. “I know that you are right,” he said. “But how can a man be righteous before God? If I’m such a bad person, why doesn’t he show me what to do about it?”
He shifted on his bed of ashes, trying vainly to find a more comfortable position. “Surely this ought to be a two-way street. Why doesn’t God do His part?”
Zophar, Job’s third friend, look horrified. “You are full of words,” he said. “Words won’t vindicate you, nor will empty talk.” He shook his head at the very thought.
Job clenched his fist, then released it as the pain from the boils shot through his hand. “Oh, you are such wise men, you three,” he said bitterly. “When you die all wisdom will have left the earth.”
He ignored the pain for a moment and said upright, his eyes flashing. “I’m not inferior to you, and you know it. You forge lies. You are worthless physicians. Why don’t you just be quiet?”
He slumped again, then continued more quietly. “A man is like a flower. He lives only a short while, then fades away and dies. But I know that this isn’t the end. Even a tree will sprout again if it is cut down. I will die but that won’t be the end. I will see God face to face.”
His three friends weren’t ready to accept Job’s answers and the conversation became more and more heated. Angry words flew back and forth, as Job tried to understand and make his friends understand. “How long are you going to torment me? Even my wife despises me. Can’t you have any pity on me, your old friend?”
It was a cry of anguish, but his friends were relentless.
“Your wickedness is great…” “Your iniquity is without end…” “You have sent widows away empty…” “God sees your sins; you can’t hide them from Him…”
Job would have torn out his hair, but he had shaved his head. “If I could only go back to the old days. Then younger men hid themselves because of my greatness, instead of accusing me. I helped the blind and the poor. Men listened to my counsel.”
His voice rose. “Now you mock me. You are younger but you think you know more than your elders. “I tell you, I’m not a wicked person. I won’t even look at a woman! I’ve given to the poor and the widows. I’ve avenged the downtrodden.”
He shrieked his final words to them. “I want God to answer me! Let him write a book about me, if I have done so many bad things!”
A fourth man had joined them during the discussion, another friend who had come to see Job. He had listened, astonished at the heat of the discussion. He looked at Job, but he had buried his head in his hands. He looked at Job’s three friends, but they had run out of arguments.
So Elihu began to talk…
Job heard very little of what Elihu said. He rebuked Job and his friends for their presumption about God. He waxed eloquent in his defense of the character of God.
“Behold, God is mighty, but despises no one…” “Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God…” “God is awesome majesty…” “He is excellent in power, in judgment and justice…”
His voice droned on, and on, and on, increasing in volume as he tried to get through to Job. But Job was beyond understanding him or responding.
Of course, God was great. Of course, God was good. Of course, God was majestic. Of course, God was powerful…. He knew all of that.
If only they would all go away and leave him to die.
But suddenly the wind picked up. The ashes started to fly. The temperatures start to chill noticeably. Something unusual was happening and even Job looked up.
A whirlwind. Like the one that destroyed my son’s house, Job thought. What is going to happen now?
The wind picked up and started to whistle. Grass and sand started to fly, and a miniature sandstorm of ashes whirled around them, causing all five of the men to cover their faces.
“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”
The Voice came from within the whirlwind; deep, majestic, and demanding attention. Is He speaking to me? Job eyes widened, but he had no time to answer before the Voice continued.
“Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”
Job shuddered and bowed his head. The other men did the same.
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” “Who shut in the sea when it broke forth?” “Where does light dwell?”
The questions continued. Questions that Job had no idea how to answer. He slumped lower and lower, until suddenly…
“Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.”
Job knew he had gone too far. In the heat of the argument he had assumed that he understood more than he did.
But the voice was waiting for his response. He almost whispered. “Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.”
The Voice wasn’t finished.
“Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me: Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?”
The questions went on, and on. And Job knew that he had no recourse. In comparison to God, he was nothing, a nobody. He was ignorant and helpless.
When the Voice stopped again, he prostrated himself painfully before the whirlwind. “I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
“But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God?” (Romans 9:20)
I pressed the SEND button for my first draft of this book to get it on its way to my reviewers. This is always a good feeling. While it will be at least a year before you can buy a copy, the hardest part of the book is finished. A historical novel takes a lot of research in order to set up a realistic setting. For instance, here are some simple questions that I battled with.
How many people lived in Nicomedia, the city where this book takes place? Apparently, the city had as many as eight bishoprics. But how many Christians does that translate into?
What was “home” like for Mark and Lydia? Where would they have lived and what was it like? I discovered that running water was the norm at this time in a Roman city.
Soon after I started writing, Mark’s mother was cooking supper. And I realized I had no idea what this entailed. A fireplace? I finally decided on a barbecue like charcoal stove as the most likely.
Since I was including the emperor’s point of view, I had to make sure that I got the history right. But what is right when major historians disagree on the timing of major events like the battle of Margus River? And when did Diocletian die? I had several possibilities to choose from. So I chose 311, knowing that probably I’ll get a letter from someone stating that the proper date was 313.
Lactantius, one of the Early Church Fathers was an eyewitness contemporary of some of the events in this book. But big name historians like Gibbon brush him aside as biased in his coverage. Gibbon is sure that his documentation is seriously exaggerated. Surely no one could believe that this many people died. My sympathies (and those of some later historians) are with Lactantius, but I finally stuck with the figure of 3,500 martyrs.
And of course there were dozens of other details. What did Mark and Lydia wear? What was baptism like in this era? Did presbyters and bishops really take a vow of poverty? Did the church support members becoming soldiers? What was a normal service like?
I think you get the idea. If you want to know the answers, read the book when it comes out.
I realize that projections can get you into trouble. But I’m hoping to get reviewing and fine tuning behind me and have the book to the publisher in 6 – 8 weeks. Then it goes through their review process while I bite my nails. Well I tend to do that anyway, but my writing style and methodology seems to be on the edge for this publisher. But I’ll dive right into Book Two of this series and let the editors and reviewers sort out what needs sorted out.
Suffice to say that I hope you can actually buy this book by the fall of 2020.
And a Sneak Preview…
So, Constantine, here we come! You might be surprised at my view of Constantine, but we’ll see. Those were heady days for the church and we’ll ride the roller coaster with Mark as he faces the everyday life of a bishop under Constantine. The Nicene council? He’s going, and they’re going to talk about more than just the substance of Christ. Can a Roman emperor be both emperor and Christian at the same time? Some of these questions still haunt us today and are surprisingly modern in focus.