“History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes.” - Sir John Templeton
Ever since 9/11, I have always had mixed feelings about our country’s response. The retired firefighter in me stifles a sob, the American patriot in me rises to the surface, the political cynic in me gets nauseous, and the Christian in me causes all of these other hats I wear to be in mass confusion.
But as history records, America’s experience on September 11th, 2001, isn’t the first time that a superpower was brought to its knees. On August 24th, 410, Rome was sacked by Alaric, King of the Visigoths. 40,000 troops pillaged the place. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, was in the middle of all of it. Augustine was a prolific writer and formulator of Christian doctrine, and my Christian history and theology professor at Emory, Dr. Bill Mallard (an Augustinian scholar himself), once joked in class that when Rome was sacked in 410, Augustine was so shocked that he couldn’t write for two hours.
But when Augustine regained his senses, he resumed his writing. And one of the things he reflected upon was that regardless of the circumstances, Christians must never equate any government or political entity with the Kingdom of God. This is especially poignant today, in that while Islam may equate government and religious authority, Christianity does not (and has not, and should not).
So what’s our response? I think it is to remain faithful. A few years ago, I would have said, “What’s the point.” But recalling the words of C.S. Lewis after Hitler invaded Poland:
It may seem odd for us to carry on classes, 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. – Sermon at Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Oxford, October 22, 1939
Even when things are broken… we stay on task. We keep the faith. We render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's... but we give to God what is God's. First.
Note: A lot of this story was inspired (and borrowed) from an article in Christianity Today entitled, “Theology for an Age of Terror,” by Timothy George