Kingdoms Fall: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
We want definitive answers. If possible, we want to know who’s to blame. We want to know who’s to blame for the state of our nation. We want to know who’s to blame for the shootings that have taken place in Texas and, it must be said, in other places across the country. We somehow think that if we can just get the politics correct, at least according to our particular point of view, everything else will follow in an orderly manner. This, of course is the fantasy world of both the right and the left.
That believers buy into the fantasy is troubling, to say the least.
In buying into the fantasy, we betray our longing for a kingdom, one that we can see and experience… here and now.
The simple fact of the matter is that kingdoms rise and fall. Whether it is Persia or Babylon or the Christendom of the middle ages, kingdoms rise and fall. Sometimes the fall is dramatic while in other instances, it takes decades if not centuries for a kingdom to come to its end. Is the American experiment reaching its end? It’s hard to know. Things may continue on for decades, or indeed for centuries, but it is a certainty that this kingdom too will fall.
When Augustine considered the fall of Rome in the year 410, he was secure in his episcopal city of Hippo, unaware that within twenty years the city would fall and his cathedral would be ravaged. Yet, although unaware, Augustine would not have been surprised. He knew that kingdoms rose and fell. As he wrote:
“God does not raise up citadels of stone and marble for us; outside of this world he raises up citadels of the Holy Spirit for us, citadels of love which could never collapse, which will for ever stand in glory when this world has been reduced to ashes. … Rome has collapsed and your hearts are outraged by this. Rome was built by men like yourself. Since when did you believe that men had the power to build things that are eternal? Your souls, filled with the light of the Holy Spirit, will not perish.”
In writing this, Augustine was trying to answer questions. The fall of Rome had left his congregation distraught. His city was filled with refugees from Rome itself. The questions were reasonable. How could God allow this to happen? How could a Christian empire suffer such a fall? This was Augustine’s answer.
Yet, we should also notice what Augustine did not say in answering the questions. He did not tell them that they shouldn’t weep for the suffering that had taken place, or that everything was going to be alright and there was nothing to fear. He didn’t say, “Let’s calm down and give the Goths and Vandals a chance.” What he did say was that the City of God and the City of Man were two separate things. He said that the City of Man loves its own power, a power that is expressed in the domination of others. In contrast, the City of God has God himself as the object of its love. The citizens of the City of God live not to dominate but to live lives of charity and of service towards all. They live with the hope of pilgrims traversing a world that is not theirs. They do so even as kingdoms rise and fall.
I’m writing this in the shadow of the events of the last few weeks. The war in Ukraine threatens the delicate balance of the international order. The racially motivated shootings in Buffalo reveal once again the deep fractures within American society. The killing of children and teachers in Uvalde and our seeming inability to curb such violence is beyond the comprehension of most of us. I would like to write and say, “Everything is going to be OK” but I can’t. We simply don’t know what the future holds.
What I do know is this, the City of Man is limited. It is limited owing to oppression and to injustice. It is limited by its desire to dominate others. It is not a continuing city. The day of its fall, whether near or far, is certain. We may weep over its tragedies. We may grieve over its injustice. We may even suffer loss and injury owing to its actions. Yet, in the end, it is not our city…
Alongside that city, however, there is another. It is the City of God. It will not, and cannot, be destroyed. Like Abraham, we should look for a city “which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God”. That city is not only our destination, it should also be a present reality.
Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Excellent piece Duane
The more we live as citizens of another kingdom, the more this one appears like it.
Unfortunately, most prefer this one to the one to come…
“That city is not only our destination, it should also be a present reality…” That we don’t grasp it as our present reality is the problem…
Duane， I love this but I have a question. What do you mean by present reality? We cannot see, touch, taste, hear or smell this City of God or can we? Yes, it’s a destination and our hope but when you say it should be our present reality I’m scratching my head. The only thing that keeps me going is hope in the future because unless you are on some kind of acid trip the present reality doesn’t look very appealing. Am I missing something?
“In contrast, the City of God has God himself as the object of its love. The citizens of the City of God live not to dominate but to live lives of charity and of service towards all. They live with the hope of pilgrims traversing a world that is not theirs.”
That is for the here and now… it’s how we can (to paraphrase) see, touch, taste, hear and smell this City of God…
When the church (local and universal) demonstrates the love of God on earth, we are demonstrating what the City of God looks like. At least, that is how I understand it. God works abundantly in our lives as we are loving and serving others. It’s the idea of being in the world and not of the world, I believe.
Amen Duane. Excellent.
American Christian’s need this eternal, biblical perspective hammered into them. It seems to me this is the ‘natural’ way for Spirit filled people to think.
That’s it… if we can learn to do it.
Very well said, Duane. We should be charitable, serving, and grieving with those in our city, and by doing so we are living in the City.
The proof of our “citizenship”…
The way I perceive it is that the City of Man is almost exclusively focused in the immediate and temporal. This might be why power plays such a prominent role in its overall structure, ethos, and perpetuation.
This does not mean that the City of God is a powerless one either it is just that it’s true power is counterintuitive to the City of Man. The city of God while never ignoring the immediate and temporal forever has its gaze set, heart fastened, and will affixed to that which is eternal. It takes place in what I will call punctuated abbreviated anomalies. It is when the City of God manifests itself within the City of Man through the service and sacrifice of those who have caught a glimpse of that eternal, abiding City.
We do well to note that while these two kingdoms can run concurrently it is wise to be on guard from the slow and subtle draw of the City of Man to mar and distract the City of Man from its true and highest purpose.
Since these are my waking thoughts for the day please forgive any heresy, whether grammatical or spiritual, but a I offer a hearty thanks for getting my rusty cogs moving upwards to start the day.
The last sentence to the 2nd to last paragraph should read *the City of God from its true and highest purpose.
“…the slow and subtle draw of the City of Man to mar and distract the City of God from its true and highest purpose…”
That, indeed, is the danger…