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Posts Tagged ‘Decline of America’

Another week, another American city torched by “mostly peaceful protesters.” Police in riot gear clear a park during clashes with protesters outside the Kenosha County Courthouse late Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. | David Goldman/AP Photo

“In the second century of the Christian Era, the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind.” With this sentence did Edward Gibbon open his famous Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Gibbon’s work, first published in 1776, is a sweeping work of history, following the fortunes of the Roman Empire from its height in the second century AD to the fall of Constantinople in 1453.  

It may come as a surprise to some people to find that the Roman Empire lasted into the 15th century.  When we think about the fall of Rome, we tend to focus on the collapse of the Western Empire in AD 476 and forget that Rome had a vibrant eastern portion that did not fall until its capital, Constantinople, fell to the Turks nearly seven hundred years later.  We call this eastern empire Byzantium, but the Byzantines did not call themselves Byzantines.  The term “Byzantine Empire” did not come into use until well after the fall of Constantinople.  No, the people we call Byzantines did not use this term.  They called themselves Romans.   

After the spilling of much ink, Gibbon concludes his work with a chapter in which he discusses what he believes to be the four main causes of the fall of Rome.  He lists them as: 1) The injuries of nature, 2) the hostile attacks of the Barbarians and Christians, 3) the use and the abuse of the materials, and 4) the domestic quarrels of the Romans.  Was Gibbon right in his assessment?  That is for another time to discuss.

Although Gibbon’s work is likely the first to come to mind when people think about decline and fall histories, his was not the first work to describe the chain of events leading from civilizational greatness to civilizational collapse.  As this author has mentioned before in this space, the Old Testament can be viewed, at least in part, as the history of the decline and fall of ancient Israel, or the Hebrew Republic as the 19th century American Presbyterian writer E.C. Wines called it. 

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Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire; strangers devour your land in your presence; and it is desolate as overthrown by strangers. Isaiah 1:7

“…because of Western civilization’s love of material comforts, there is an unwillingness to face unpleasant realities.”

  • Gordon H. Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things, p.53

“‘How did you go bankrupt?’ Bill asked.  ‘Two ways,’ Mike said.  ‘Gradually and then suddenly.’“ So wrote Ernest Hemmingway in his novel The Sun Also Rises

Although Hemmingway’s book was a work fiction, what he said about bankruptcy is a phenomenon many of us have seen in real life.  Individuals and organizations that appear to be in robust financial health experience sudden financial collapse. 

Perhaps the poster child for sudden financial ruin is Lehman Brothers, a famous 150-year-old Wall Street investment bank.  Having earned record profits during the height of the real estate bubble from 2005-2007, early in the morning on Monday, September 15,2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.   

The collapse of Lehman Brothers to this day is still the largest bankruptcy in American history. 

Gradually, then suddenly.  That same pattern can be seen in the Scriptures as well.  In Deuteronomy 32:35 we read, “Their foot shall slide in due time.”   Some will recognize this as the text on which Jonathan Edwards based his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Wrote Edwards,

It [the saying “their foot shall slide in due time”] implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction.  As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in ‘Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction:  How are they brought into desolation as in a moment? (Psalm 73:18-19).

Sodom and Gomorrah met with destruction in a single day. 

After centuries of rebellion against God, Jerusalem was sacked in a single day. 

In Daniel’s time, the mighty city of Babylon was overthrown in a single day. 

In Revelation, the voice from heaven prophesies that the destruction of Babylon the Great will come in a single day.  The kings of the earth are said to lament her destruction, crying out, “Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city!  For in one hour your judgment has come” (Revelation 18:10).  

In all of these cases, the sudden final destruction was really the end result of a process that had been going on for many years.   

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