Train Wrecks and the Fall of Empires

by Robert Arvay, Contributing Writer

On September 15, 1896, two locomotives collided on purpose as a publicity stunt. Two onlookers were killed when the boilers exploded, and many people were injured, some terribly, including the photographer who lost an eye.

The words “train wreck” have a special place in American culture. Before the invention of the passenger airliner, train wrecks were perhaps the most common and most deadly of spectacular transportation accidents.

One feature of train wrecks is that once the locomotives collide, the wreck has only just begun, but the disaster which unfolds is predictable and unstoppable. The momentum of the rail cars forces each of them—one, then another, after another—into a pile-up, throwing them off the tracks, until finally, at last, the momentum has been expended, and the disaster becomes plain to see. Railway cars lie strewn about in an accordion-like pattern, some on their sides. The groans of agony define the human tragedy that has just occurred.

When an empire begins to fall, the locomotives have already collided, but the further consequences are inevitable and unstoppable. The old saying that “Rome was not built in a day,” applies equally to the collapse of that once-mighty empire. It declined gradually over a few centuries, but that decline occurred only after the fatal wounds had already been inflicted long before.

Today’s America is a train wreck. The collision has occurred. Only a miracle can save us from clearly foreseeable catastrophe.

The government is so corrupt that it closely resembles an organized criminal enterprise. The corruption is shocking in its depth, reaching from the proverbial dog catcher all the way to the very top. Attempts to clean it out have all failed. One commentator explained why: everybody in government has a brother-in-law. One hand washes the other. Give that some thought.

America began as a grand experiment. It combined the highest ideals of human thought, political and Biblical, with the fallibility and weakness of the human condition. For a time, it seemed that the ideals might win out, that the human soul might rise to the occasion, and take up the banner of righteousness. Alas, the feet of our empire, although made of the iron of truth, are mixed with the clay from which we are made. When the feet crumble, everything above them must also collapse.

One hesitates to accept this dismal truth. One struggles to find hope. One clings tenaciously to faith, but the only proper object of our faith must be not in ourselves, but in our Creator.

There is no political solution, no military solution, no economic nor social nor anything earthly that can save us. The corruption in Rome existed not only in its emperor, not only in its senate, but also among its citizens, people who flocked to the arena to watch men kill each other for entertainment, who flocked to the brothels and orgies, who enslaved the powerless and slaughtered the innocent.

The technology has changed, but human nature has not. If anything, the very technology which has empowered us to do good, has also enabled us to reach new depths of destruction. Must we itemize the list of cancers which have taken root in our society? The list is too long.

The sense of futility and helplessness is overwhelming. How does one stop the rail cars from their inevitable pile-up?

There is hope, but the hope is not that we can resolve America’s problems, but rather, that we can put on the full armor of God, which He alone can provide. There is a joke which applies here. It says that I wish to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity. Funny, but all too true. Our duty is not to save the nation, but to become better citizens of the kingdom of God. It is said that he also serves who stands and waits. Our duty is to prepare ourselves for service, so that when the day comes that we are called upon, we will be ready to serve.

“Waiting,” does not mean to stand idly by. Armies in waiting need to keep in practice. They need to drill, to keep their powder dry, and to sharpen their aim. We can do that by participating in our society, seeking to change it for the better, to elect representatives who reflect our values. Those efforts will fail, but that should not discourage us. When Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, he exhorted them to fight, but he also told them that it is God who has gone ahead and won the victory for us.

“So that no man can boast,” is what the apostle Paul told us is the reason for our faith, so that we can recognize that the credit belongs to God alone. He does not need our help, but like a parent who allows his child to “help,” even when the child gets in the way, God commands us to “help.”

There is plenty of reason to be discouraged, but more reason yet to be optimistic and uplifted. Soldier on.

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