By Ramone Romero
This picture above came on August 9, 2008 as I watched the Nagasaki peace ceremony on TV. I didn't understand the picture, but wrote my thoughts about what "Nagasaki" means to me, primarily centering on the things I had not known.
Nagasaki is a mere footnote in most American history textbooks, mentioning only that the plutonium-based bomb was more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima. I didn't know the bomb had exploded over a church full of 850 Japanese Christians, or that over 8,000 Christians died in the blast. I didn't know Nagasaki was the historical center of Japanese Christian history and its countless martyrdoms during the Tokugawa government persecution. I wrote what "Nagasaki" illustrated for me: that we shouldn't demonize our enemies, but instead should love them, forgive them, and seek to know them. As Christ taught.
But those were just my feelings & thoughts. The picture God showed me had been something of an enigma: Was it actually a picture of the Nagasaki bombing? The foreground showed destruction like the bomb caused, although the wood would have been quickly burned. But why the remaining roof-like part? And why the hill of the 26 Martyrs?
Behind that destruction, the picture portrays Nishizaka hill, where on February 5, 1597, twenty-six Christians were crucified (twenty Japanese, four Spaniards, one Mexican and one Indian). They had been arrested in Kyoto and Osaka for preaching Christianity, and had been marched through the snow to be executed in Nagasaki, so as to make an example to the large Christian population there. Today they are known and revered as the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki.
But other than the tragic ironies of history (which abound in story of Nagasaki), I didn't know what the picture meant. I only knew that I was moved in the Spirit as I saw it, and was moved in the Spirit as I tried to write about it. When I shared the picture with my spiritual mum back in California, she began to wail loudly in the Spirit with such intensity that she was very surprised. She sensed God's heart of passion for His children and it broke her heart! She couldn't read all of what I wrote because the Spirit was so heavily upon her. I couldn't understand why we were moved in the Spirit. So I waited and moved on with life and with God.
This year (2010) when anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima arrived, my heart compelled me to make a new picture about the bombings ("Nothing I Can Do"). After I had finished and written about that picture, I wondered about this two-year-old picture, "Nagasaki". I prayed about it again, and God said it was time to share the meaning with me.
When I first painted the picture, I had a feeling that it was about things in the future. When I prayed about it I felt the Lord say that more martyrs are coming, more atomic bombs, and more twisted justifications for these things which will result in again more of them. "Martyrs" is perhaps not a descriptive-enough word. "Sacrifices" is more appropriate, because the torture, maiming & killing of the people of Hiroshima & Nagasaki was justified as having been done in order to save American lives. It releases an even worse fragrance to know that the bombs were dropped by people who claimed to be Christian, and righteous-sounding prayers for protection of the crews & mission were offered in the name of Christ before the atomic bombers took off.
This kind of rationale will be used again in the future by various nations, particularly ones that will use it against America. It wasn't just atomic bomb power that America unleashed in 1945, it also unknowingly unleashed a powerful, twisted justification to excuse inflicting untold horror on people. This was fine with us (Americans) when we were the biggest guys on the block and the only ones who could throw atomic rocks, so to speak, but it will feel much different being on the receiving end of it.
Things We'd Rather Not Notice...
I just watched a hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor) on TV give a speech at this year's Nagasaki ceremony. He had been a student at the time, but he said that it was well known that students like him weren't at school then. They were at factories making munitions. The whole country had been mobilized and swept up in the war effort, just like back at my home in America, probably even moreso in Japan.
I read a book called "The Bells of Nagasaki" by a Japanese Christian named Takashi Nagai, who himself lived through the Nagasaki bombing and died from leukemia. He told of how the Japanese Christians had supported the nation and the war, and he repented of how the Japanese had not esteemed or valued human lives. He saw the bombing as a wake-up call to Japan and humanity to value one another's lives. In fact, Christianity in Japan had been systematically pressured for almost fifty years prior to the war to compromise its worship and support the Japanese gods and government. By the time the war arrived, almost no organized Christian groups had survived with an uncompromised gospel because they could not withstand the threat of persecution from the Japanese government and the social pressure to conform to nationalism.
That doesn't mean that any of them deserved the bomb. Not at all. God called us to love our enemies, not nuke them. War is political and is difficult to sort out. But the atomic bombings took things to a new horrific level. And worse, the nation dropping the bomb tried to excuse, justify and defend the new horrific level.
There is a message in "Nagasaki" for Christians everywhere, but particularly in America. In Japan the nation had been swept up in nationalism. Organized Christianity in Japan was also caught up in the nationalism. It is very like America today. Organized Christianity is often political and intertwined with "America" and certain political parties. The gospel is being compromised left and right, being swept away by political aims and platforms. What happened to the Christians of Nagasaki and Japan will also happen to the Christians of America if the gospel continues to be compromised and made to serve nationalism and politics. When the church loses her heart and soul (the gospel), she has no more testimony in the world, and all the world hears is the nation's voice. There is no witness of love in action or deed to offset whatever negativity the nation may be acting out or speaking out. The church then suffers with the nation when the sins of the nation return upon it. In the same way, America has wounded many countries and peoples (often in the name of being "benefactors" to them). If Christianity in America blends with nationalism instead of standing up to repent when America sins against other nations, how can Christians in America avoid suffering when nations retaliate against America for her sins?
Not all the Christians in Nagasaki were bad. Not even all the ones swept up in nationalism. It's the same in America. Not all Christians --even ones blind in nationalism-- are bad. Not all intend to dilute and subvert the gospel. Many, many, many are innocent and being led down a path that they don't know ends in inviting great suffering on the church and nation. Just like Nagasaki, what will return upon America will destroy the innocent and the guilty together. Atomic weapons are no discriminator of persons. Of course God has ultimate say of salvation. But is it His desire for us to invite such suffering on ourselves -- whether innocent or guilty? I don't believe so.
The Lord told me that the destroyed wood building in the foreground is a church. This painting and its interpretation are for the church, especially in America.
"We Are Making Martyrs..."
The hill of the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki speaks the same message. Christian persecution in Japan began when the reigning warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi suddenly changed from favoring the Christians (whom he'd previously even built a seminary for) to ordering them out of the country, and then crucifying the twenty-six in Nagasaki. Hideyoshi had published an edict expelling Christianity, in which he listed several reasons or offenses, but most historians agree that Hideyoshi didn't really care whether Christians stayed in Japan or not. In fact, after the crucifixion of the twenty-six, he didn't really carry out more persecutions (the heaviest persections and exterminations came with the next goverment, the Tokugawa family). Hideyoshi simply wanted the Christians to be subjugated to him in politics, loyalty, military power and support. Hideyoshi destroyed the lives of the 26 in order to terrorize Christians into subjugation (ironically like America used the destruction of lives in Hiroshima & Nagasaki to terrorize Japan into surrendering).
When we hear about all the martyrdoms that happened in Japan (likely in the hundreds of thousands during the Tokugawa era), naturally we want to honor their faith and revere their memory. We think of them as innocent. In the same way that we think of the Christians of Nagasaki as innocent. But just like Nagasaki, it was actually the innocent and the guilty being indisciminately destroyed together.
The Catholic Jesuits who brought Christianity to Japan often attempted to convert people in society from the top down. They converted several warlords to Christianity who in turn converted all their subjects, often at swordpoint. The previous ruler of Japan (before Hideyoshi) had been Nobunaga Oda, who had shown great antagonism towards various Buddhist sects, but who had shown great favor to the newly arrived Christian missionaries. When Nobunaga persecuted Buddhists, and later when Christian warlords destroyed Buddhist temples and made their subjects become Christian, the Jesuits marveled in letters at the "zeal" of these people and the "favor" God was showing the Christian faith in Japan.
Christianity actually was a significant power or political threat to Hideyoshi's rule in Japan, even if only indirectly. That's why he wanted Christians subjugated. Of course, in his official edict he listed various things the Christians had done (against temples) and taught (against Japanese religions). But the bottom line was simply power, as it is for most wars & leaders in almost all generations. However what he put in the edict and the list of grieviances the political Christianity had rung up shows that the Christians had given easy ammunition and excuses for their enemies to attack them. Granted, people will attack Christians just like Christ was attacked even though He preached love and grace, but we should not always assume that any attack on us is automatically the same thing as what happened to Christ or the apostles. First we must check to see if we have actually grieved our human brothers and sisters somehow. And if we have, we should "leave the altar and go and be reconciled to them", as Christ taught us.
Two months later, when I was weeping and painting another picture (about the Iraq war), I suddenly remembered this "Nagasaki" picture and felt that the two pictures were connected, but I didn't understand how. I heard this word in my spirit and wept in the Holy Spirit, that "We are making martyrs today."
The words "We are making martyrs" refer to how our politicizing (corrupting) Christianity is going to produce martyrs in the future when what we've sent around returns around to us. It is the same as how the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki suffered in large part because Christianity had been politicized and had become a political power. It is often said that actions speak louder than words, and in the same way the wounds our nations inflict (often in the name of God) are the loudest testimony against us. And when enemies attack, the innocent among us will suffer and be martyred. We are arranging for the future suffering and martyrdom of our own innocent when we set aside the gospel and strike with the sword today.
Ammunition Versus Deterrence...
In the same way that Hideyoshi listed peoples' grieviances with political Christians in Japan before persecuting them, in the future enemies of America will list peoples' greviances with America (and its political Christianity) as they attack America, even with atomic weapons. However, unlike Hideyoshi, many of America's enemies will not simply aim to subjugate America. When another friend saw the picture, two words came to him: "Fresh start." I didn't understand at the time, and hoped for a positive application even though the picture portrayed horrors. But it's a word about why many enemies will attack in the future. Some of them will attack in order erase America, in order to have a "fresh start" without America. The sowing of destruction and eventual reaping of destruction progressively increases in horror and violence as the years progress. Although many people become wiser and more humane as the years progress, sinful hearts also come up with newer justifications for wars and inflicting terror on enemies.
It is a cycle. If you use terror (including terrible weapons like the atomic bombs), you give ammunition to your enemies and future generations who will use your own excuses and rationales for such terrible acts against you. Again, as terrible as the horrific effects unleashed by the atomic bomb were, equally terrible is the unleashing of excuses & rationales for committing such an act. The twisted logic of the "justifications" for the bomb are harder to erase and eradicate than actual nuclear weapons themselves. Even though weapons may be eliminated temporarily, if the twisted 'justified' logic survives, then the weapons will be built and used again. Tragically, it is inevitable.
In grieving prayer, I asked the Lord if this can be averted. I believe some of it can, but not all of it. Much of the damage is too far done to be undone. Great, massive repentance is the biggest deterrent. But repentance is also one of the hardest things to do for proud nations such as America. Pray, and pray, and pray. And repent. Repent to all who will hear. Love all, and show it over and over again. I believe this is the best way to minimize the amount of bombs that will be used, but more importantly, it is the best way to witness to hardened hearts and save many of them for the eternal Kingdom.
See also: Justifying the Sacrifice of the Innocent