~ Same Old Terrorism,
New Face ~
"Invicta Roma Aeterna.
what was written on the coins of the Roman Empire. It means, "Eternal,
unconquerable Rome." Jesus must have been amused at the pride of human
power when He asked for a coin to make a point about the separation of
church and state. From 400 years before His birth to 400 years
afterward, this eternal city indeed was the world's superpower.
In A.D. 410, the Roman Empire collapsed under the might of 40,000
foreign troops. Christianity was a legal practice and its scholars were
busy writing and formulating religious orders and communities. St.
Jerome wrote, "Rome was besieged. The city to which the whole world
fell has fallen. If Rome can perish, what can be safe [in this world]?"
Roman Emperor Constantine espoused Christianity only a 100 years before
the fall of the empire and some suggested that was a retribution by the
Roman gods. In response, St. Augustine wrote his classic work, "The
City of God." How do people aspiring to be Christlike react to foreign
invasion? "The City of God" addressed sorrows, torment, fear, and
"dangerous temptations." Unlike the rise of Islam 200 years later,
Christian theologians and philosophers echoed Christ's teachings and
practice of His disciples after His ascension that the Kingdom of God
is "not of this world," distinguishable from civil powers organized by
humans to govern themselves. Indeed, all the superpowers throughout
history had their rise, reign and fall. This will continue. And looking
back over the past few centuries, including the 20th, it appears that
superpowers rise and fall much more quickly than in antiquity.
Before Rome fell, Jerusalem did, as predicted by Jesus: " 'Do you see
all these things?' he asked. 'I tell you the truth, not one stone here
will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.' ...So when you
see standing the holy place the abomination that causes desolation,
spoken of through the prophet Daniel -- let the reader understand --
then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on
the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no
one in the field go back to get his cloack. How dreadful it will be in
those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!..For then there will
be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now
-- and never to be equaled again" (Matthew 24). This was literally
actualized in A.D. 70 when the Roman Emperor Titus completely destroyed
Jerusalem. The temple stones were pried apart to gather the gold leaf
that drained from the roof of the temple set on fire. Furthermore, an
image of the anti-christ was placed on the former sacred site. Josephus
was a respected Jewish historian who personally witnessed this
destruction and concurred with the predictions of the Christ in his eye
witness account. This was the great tribulation prophesied by Daniel
and recounted by Jesus, "and never to be equaled again."
Of course, there were other horrible tribulations that tested the faith
and strength of humankind. Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 and soon after
England. The well known C.S. Lewis was a lecturer at the University
Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Oxford. His address to his students at
that time reminds me of my own to students assigned to me to learn
science and mathematics in the inner city plagued with its own
tribulations, always wondering how relevant was my assignment in those
conditions in which my students lived:
"It may seem odd for us to carry on
to go about our academic routine in the midst of a great war. What is
the use of beginning when there is so little chance of finishing? How
can we study Latin, geography, algebra in a time like this? Aren't we
just fiddling while Rome burns?
"This impending war has taught us some
important things. Life is short. The world is fragile. All of us are
vulnerable, but we are here because this is our calling. Our lives are
rooted not only in time, but also in eternity, and the life of
learning, humbly offered to God, is its own reward. It is one of the
appointed approaches to the divine reality and the divine beauty, which
we shall hereafter enjoy in heaven and which we are called to display
even now amidst the brokenness all around us."
Terrorism reigned in his day. The "brokenness" of
today's terrorism is our reality. But not a new one. Not even one that
can be compared to that our ancestors suffered under, fought and died.
St. Augustine died in A.D. 430 as another storm of terror descended on
the western European continent. You probably heard of the "Vandals",
from which we got our English term "vandals" and "vandalism." Under
command of their leader, Genseric, this occupying army dealt violence,
destruction, and torture to Christian churches. Christianity was
challenged again with how to respond. Some Christian factions
surrendered to martyrdom. Some to military resistance. This era was a
challenge to how Christendom would respond to violence targeted at its
Two hundred years later Islamic devotees claimed
control and occupation of the land holy to both Christians and Jews.
Perhaps that was the straw that broke the desert camels' backs.
"Crusades" were organized to win back control of the holy sites. This
is an ugly scare on both the Muslin and Christian legacy. And it
continues today. The sacred Dome of the Rock sits on the
sacred temple site of the Jewish temple that was destroyed into
oblivion in A.D. 70 as Jesus predicted. Both Muslims, Jews and
Christians lay claim to this sacred site.
St. Augustine wrote a book entitled "Confessions."
Here are some comments about the most famous evangelist of modern
Billy Graham, that could also merit the same title:
recordings ultimately brought about Graham's own darkest hour. In a
conversation released in 2002, Graham was heard exchanging anti-Semitic
remarks about alleged Jewish control of the media. The shock of the
revelation was magnified because of Graham's longtime support of Israel
and his refusal to join in calls for the conversion of the Jews. "If it
wasn't on tape, I would not have believed it," says Graham. "I guess I
was trying to please. I felt so badly about myself—I couldn't believe
it. I went to a meeting with Jewish leaders and I told them I would
crawl to them to ask their forgiveness." In a statement, Graham said:
"Much of my life has been a pilgrimage—constantly learning, changing,
growing and maturing. I have come to see in deeper ways some of the
implications of my faith and message, not the least of which is in the
area of human rights and racial and ethnic understanding." The lesson
for Graham was that earthly power was alluring but perilous for a man
of faith. The bitterness of the Nixon connection was complete, and
Graham saw the wisdom of the Psalmist, who wrote: "Put not thy trust in
unifying theme of Graham's new thinking is humility. He is sure and
certain of his faith in Jesus as the way to salvation. When asked
whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims,
Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, though, Graham says: "Those are
decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to
speculate on who will be there and who won't ... I don't want to
speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He
said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves
everybody regardless of what label they have." Such an ecumenical
spirit may upset some Christian hard-liners, but in Graham's view, only
God knows who is going to be saved: "As an evangelist for more than six
decades, Mr. Graham has faithfully proclaimed the Bible's Gospel
message that Jesus is the only way to Heaven," says Graham spokesman A.
Larry Ross. "However, salvation is the work of Almighty God, and only
he knows what is in each human heart."
There is something about old age that indeed begets
wisdom. We see it in the writings of Jesus' apostles and the early
church fathers. Now we see it in the musings of Rev. Billy Graham. His
son, Franklin, sees things differently than his father. Actually,
Franklin is following his father's footsteps when his Dad was a
conservative fundamentalist preacher. Experience with world reality
however does shake us up. Billy Graham's shake up was augmented with
his relationship with former president Nixon. They were buddies, as was
Graham with many presidents as their spiritual advisor. But Nixon's
deceitfulness concomitant with the release tapes of his White House
discussions punctuated with obscene language had Graham thinking again.
Franklin has not yet learned from his father's experience. Some things
cannot be learned other than by experiencing what our ancestors already
did and wrote about.
Terrorism is old. Our ancestors may well be amused at our definition
of it. The Roman Empire controlled its world with terror. Stalin
exceeded Hitler's terrorism by 63,000 deaths and thousands more sent to
suffer until death in the gulags and Siberia labor camps. The people of
North Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Central America, China and many African
nations have tried to explain to the world what truly is terrorism. Our
own prisoners in the US who are innocent speak through the channels of
legal venues. (The U.S. Justice Department reports that at least 15% of
those incarcerated in the U.S. are innocent.) Without a voice from
prison walls they remain helpless. They live in terror for their lives
and so do their families.
We live in a broken world, and the threat of terrorism is worthy of all
nations' attention. Such a realization may be relatively new to the
North American governments. Indeed it is, since the U.S. was admittedly
surprised and caught off guard by the 9/11/2001 attack, as we were by
the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
In this political environment, it is rather unexpected for governments
to bear expressed responses to the calling of Christ. As individuals,
we can retreat to the forests and embrace with delight and thanksgiving
the design, the light, the magnificent beauty and mystery of God's
creation. Those that govern the world do not do that. So they lack
divine wisdom. Can any entity govern a nation without divine wisdom?
Sometimes I wonder what I would utter just before I die. I thought of
many things, but one may well be my choice, from Psalm 31:21: "Blessed
be my Lord, for He showed His wonderful love to me when I was in a
besieged city." Come to think of it, I will pray that now before I die,
for it is the prayer of living on this earth, besieged with terror of
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
in the Christian Faith ~
Spiritual Resource Services © September 28, 2006
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