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There is a simple enough test to see if someone has actually read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. All you have to do is utter the words “Room 101” and look to see if the person shudders. Those who have merely heard of the book, or of that particular allusion may recognize it, but will not react viscerally to it. If you read through the account of Winston’s fateful trip to Room 101, its mere mention hits you in the gut.
Throughout Orwell’s novel, we are given a picture of a brutal future, ruled by the virtually omnipresent Big Brother. Every step is prescribed, every action watched, even every thought monitored. Our “hero,” however, out of an inchoate love for the fair Julia, becomes a rebel with a cause—to serve with his beloved against Big Brother in hopes of bringing him down. The two are caught in their revelries and placed under arrest. It turns out their purported contact with the underground was just another agent of Big Brother.
Orwell doesn’t dive right into Room 101. Rather, he leads us there slowly. Winston’s anguish begins first with hunger as he is jailed and given nothing to eat. What follows next is days, perhaps weeks, of interrogation and extreme torture. Over time, Winston confesses to all he has done and not done. He even confesses that the Party is the arbiter of all truth, indeed that 2+2=5. He is broken, beaten, a shell of his former self. All that he has left is peace in knowing that in all his confessing, in all his repenting, he never turned on Julia. There was still a hidden corner of his heart that Big Brother could not penetrate and make his own.
Which is just why Winston was brought to Room 101. There is nothing particularly unique in this room. Rather, each prisoner brought to Room 101 faces his own deepest fear. For Winston, it is rats. There are just two rats, and they are safely caged. The cage, however, has an odd design. It is a special apparatus that could be, indeed would be, strapped around Winston’s head with the door to each cage opening right at his eyes. The rats, having been starved, would escape through Winston. As the cage is brought closer, he does not merely scream in fright and beg for safety but pleads that someone else be given the cage, anyone else—even Julia. “Do it to Julia!” he screams, now fully and finally broken.
Which brings me to my deepest fear—my Room 101 betrayal. Persecution comes in as many sizes and shapes as there are Rooms 101. Some experience the comparatively petty persecution of mild social ostracism, others face death, and still others torture. What history teaches us, however, is that whatever form persecution takes, it is often our brothers who lead us there. That is, those believers who crave acceptance and safety are the first ones to throw their brothers under the bus. By doing so, they prove their loyalty to the regime and their distance from the family.
Consider two examples, one ancient, the other current. The Roman Empire did not have a careful and sophisticated taxonomy of the people they conquered. To them, the Jews were the Jews. The key reason the Pharisees hated Jesus so much was less that He was popular while they were not, less that He exposed their folly, and more that He was a danger. As the people looked to Jesus to throw off the yoke of Rome, the Pharisees understood that Roman reprisals for such a rebellion wouldn’t be nuanced. They would all be killed. So, they handed Jesus over to Pilate, insisting, “He’s not one of us.”
In our day, the danger is social ostracism, especially regarding the issue of sexual morality. With each passing day, the biblical sexual ethic is looked upon more and more as not merely quaint and old fashioned but oppressive, bigoted, and immoral. Which is why certain wings of the church have been, and will be, so quick to jump on the bandwagon. Which is why every week or so we read about another megachurch pastor coming out in favor of homosexual marriage. Which is why adultery and fornication and the fruit thereof—abortion—are dead issues in our pulpits. “We’re not like them. Hate those bigots down the street from us. We’re loving and accepting. Turn your bile on them, but give us a pass.”
What then do we do? Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. It is, remember, in the same sermon that Jesus calls us to seek His kingdom that He tells us we are blessed when we are persecuted for His name’s sake. The question is, will we believe it? Will we accept His shame as our honor, or will we honor them to our shame? Will we remember that love toward the world is hatred toward God (James 4:4)? Will we be the betrayers, or will we have the blessing of being the betrayed?