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