The Governor Of The Nations
Of all events recorded in the annals of human history, the Fall of Rome surely stands as one of the most significant! That the unthinkable happened is of signal importance. And its profound meaning, even from such a great distance, should grip us and capture our attention. It was the Christian theologian-linguist, Origen, who far away in his monastery in Bethlehem, summarized it so well: “The city which has taken the whole world is itself taken.”
Germanic tribes had threatened the Roman frontier for centuries. But only a few tens of thousands of barbarians eventually brought about her downfall. They wandered across the empire in the end – destroying at will – with virtually no defense made by citizens, public or private! Roman military forces melted away in disgust when their esteemed General-in-Chief was executed on absurd political accusations, not based upon what he had done, but upon what he might do. Roman taxation policy had become so blatant that collectors possessed authority to torture citizens to derive information on hidden assets. It was on the night of August 24, A.D. 410 that Alaric stormed the walls of Rome in a surprise attack. For the first time in 800-years, Rome was taken by a foreign enemy. The psychological blow was enormous.
Why did Rome fall? Certainly many factors were involved. The Roman orator, Cicero, had warned: “The budget should be balanced. Public debt should be reduced. The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered, and assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest our nation become bankrupt.” In addition, moral debauchery covered the land. But central to the demise of Rome was the cynicism and distrust of her citizens toward their leaders! They believed their nation, corrupt and beyond hope of reform, was no longer worth fighting to defend. They concluded it was better off dead! The British historian, Arnold Toynbee, articulated a famous maxim still with us today: Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder! Certainly this was true of Rome.
An old fable exists regarding a peddler in Warsaw whose life was most difficult. His destitution could not be hidden, for his clothing resembled the rags of a pauper, his long hours of hard work in freezing temperatures yielded next to nothing and his scant rations barely kept him alive. The small hut where he shivered in restless sleep each night was miserable, at best. In general, he was as hard-working and as poor an individual as God’s angels could find. Caring deeply for this indigent – and understanding the heights to which he could rise given the opportunity – they one day asked the Lord to do something unique and wonderful on his behalf. In an instant, the peddler was transported from his frozen and windswept surroundings to the beauty and magnificence of Heaven! He was excitedly told that God would grant him anything he wished! “Anything?” asked the astonished peddler! “Anything!” came their ready reply. The peddler thought long and hard, then looked up at the waiting angels and said, “I’ll have a hot cup of coffee and a doughnut.”
An immediate gasp overcame the shocked angels! And then a look of horror and disappointment crept over them as they considered his frivolous reply. He could have asked for entry into heaven. He could have requested wealth to help others as a great benefactor. He could have sought wisdom to improve the lot of his countrymen. But his trifling reply had already been made: “I’ll have a hot cup of coffee and a doughnut.” He had trivialized God. And the reason he had trivialized God was that he himself was trivial!
The word “trivial” is a compound word consisting of tri (three) in combination with via (road). “Crossroads” were places where news was exchanged – usually unimportant information bordering on gossip. To trivialize is therefore to prefer insignificance over that which is important. Through his trivialization, the peddler had made God’s generosity a thing of little worth – and his own great privilege and calling equally unimportant!
The legendary peddler is not alone in his trivial ways. We all tend to trivialize God! Some trivialize Him by making His command to weekly exalted worship optional. Others trivialize Him by setting aside His inspired word – the Sacred Scriptures – for the fallible opinions of mankind. Yet others trivialize Him by proclaiming His remarkable and inspiring Creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) the product of a Big Bang! We all surely trivialize God when we reject His generous offer of grace and mercy and forgiveness and guidance.
The psalmist of old furnished the needful corrective when he prayed: Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty (Psalm 104:1). The vision of God’s greatness is once again needed in our day. The vision of God’s greatness will certainly preserve us from trivializing ourselves and others – for there is much, much more to life than just coffee and doughnuts!