Bread and Circuses
Our strategies are often rather far from God’s strategies. Indeed, the simple fact that we sit down to strategize may be a sure sign that we are far from God’s chosen path. We are plotters and planners, who believe that the only way to get to place “z” is to work our way first from “a” through “y.” We want a road map and then a machine to take us where we think we are going. We put one foot in front of the other, and too often find ourselves trodden underfoot. We have embraced the gradualism of both the Enlightenment and of the Marxists. We think history moves forward with all the speed and deliberation of an amoeba growing into a fish. We think the way to build the kingdom of God is like the Colorado River etching away for age after age until the canyon has become grand, that we make known His reign through the long march through the institutions. But the kingdom of God not only is taken by violence, but can grow in violent paroxysms of His providence. It’s happened before, and it will happen again.
B. K. Kuiper, in his fine work The Church in History, tells us, “Jerome was sitting in his cave in Bethlehem, writing his Commentary on the Prophecies of Ezekiel, when he heard the news [of the fall of Rome to the Goths in 410]. He was overwhelmed with anguish and consternation. He believed that the antichrist was at hand. He said: ‘The world is rushing to ruin. The glorious city, the capital of the Roman Empire, has been swallowed up in one conflagration. Churches once hallowed have sunk into ashes.’” The Goths weren’t the last to tread upon the city of Rome, nor was Rome the lone city to feel the wrath of the barbarians. It was less than one hundred years after Constantine “converted” the Roman Empire, and the glory that was Rome became nothing but rubble. The Goths were joined by Vandals, Ostrogoths, Visigoths and Huns. Barbarian horde after barbarian horde swept over Europe, and began the “Dark Ages.”
Culturally speaking, we had moved into houses we did not build. We had drunk from wells we did not dig. We feasted on vineyards we did not plant. Constantine had led us to a short-cut to the city of God, and God Himself destroyed it all. For what possible reason? For His glory, and for the good of His people.
God brought the barbarians to the Christians for one great purpose, that they might hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What we consider calamity was, from a more biblical perspective, the Gentiles coming into the kingdom. What we consider defeat and destruction God meant as bringing His elect in from the four corners of the earth. For while the barbarians conquered the western world, Jesus conquered the barbarians. The good news of the kingdom of Jesus spread through sundry barbarian camps with all the speed of barbarians sacking a city.
Like Augustine and Jerome before us, we are watching yet another twilight of Western civilization. We live amidst a new barbarism. In Europe today once great cathedrals stand nearly empty each Lord’s Day for want of a congregation. Sodomites parade their perversion down our city streets. Entire neighborhoods are controlled by modern barbarians, thugs thriving by selling pharmaceutical bread and circuses. God’s name cannot be mentioned in the lower halls of learning across this land. Our children grow up learning that they are the accidental by-product of time and chance. A bankrupt government sponsors “art” comprised of a crucifix in a jar of urine and dung besmirching the mother of Jesus. And in the midst of our neat and tidy cities, on this day four thousand mothers will murder their babies, all out in the open.
Does this mean then that we have a long row to hoe? Must we first join forces with the enemies of Christ who share with us a disgust of our cultural decline? Do we work first to build a society of decency? Is it our project to gain control of the institutions of learning or to grasp the engine of political power so that we can begin to turn, inch by inch, this listing ship? Should we boycott and protest our way to a G-rated culture to set the stage for some distant Gospel campaign? No, the barbarians have been let inside the gate so that we can now tell them about Jesus. The barbarians have toppled and conquered our world so that we might proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom of Christ. The barbarians have come to teach us to toss our petty stratagems and to give up our hope in princes, so that we “the civilized” might rest upon and serve alone our great king.
When trouble comes, it is not difficult to hear the master’s voice. He is telling us what He is always telling us, “Repent, and believe the Gospel.” Perhaps were we to obey Him, then we might next not only repent and believe, but proclaim the Gospel. And our enemies, the children of darkness, might be brought into His glorious light. Then the violent just might take heaven by storm. This, after all, is what happened with us. We were strangers, foreigners, barbarians, but now we are the people of God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, as long as we know where our citizenship is.