The European city of light and culture was attacked by violent enemies. The living fled for refuge while the bodies of the dead fell to the ground like so many of the autumnal leaves.
The decadent and godless city was traumatised, but it recuperated - they believed their city to be 'eternal'. They sang songs and held vigils. They swore it would never happen again. But it did. It was the year 410 AD when Alaric and the Goths first sacked Rome. It would not be the last time.
Strangely, many Romans were saved by fleeing like refugees into the churches. Historians struggle to explain both why the Romans fled there and why the Visigoths spared those places. Rome had pagan deities and temples, but they were debauched. Sexual immorality had free reign and expression throughout the city – sodomy, prostitution, and paedophilia were all common practice and these temples were often akin to brothels.
Churches stood as a small, alternative and counter-cultural movement that held to the new and radical ideas of there being only one true God who should be worshipped and that of sexual monogamy for one man and one woman within marriage alone.
Somehow, the Visigoths knew that the worship of Jesus Christ was different from the worship of the other gods in the city – in reverence they passed over these places in their attacks. Unfortunately, when the Visigoths had left, the Romans went back to worshipping their old gods and to practising their old sin. Many whose lives had been spared when they fled for refuge in the churches, actually went on to blame the sack of Rome on the Christians themselves.
In the aftermath, one of the shining the intellectuals of the city, Augustine of Hippo, wrote a book that survives to this day: The City of God. In it, he calls the pagans to account for their hypocrisy but he also points to a truth far greater. He lets people know that there is a city that is truly eternal – a city that will never fall and that everyone is invited to become a citizen of. Scripture says that Abraham - and ultimately all of the people of God - were, ‘looking for a city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.’ That’s the city all of our hearts are really homesick for – though we’ve never been.
Rome fell - and will fall again. So will New York. So will Paris. Cities are temporal, human beings last forever and will forever one day be citizens of the glorious City of God or the hopeless City of Man.
Fortunately, the City of God has a different refugee policy then our nations do. Anyone who is willing to flee the City of Man will be welcomed into the heavenly one.
What are you sticking around for?