Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Emperor and the Slave Girl

The Stoics were philosophers who believed in upholding conventional morality and self-control. They were firmly opposed to the Epicureans, who thought the pursuit of the largest amount of pleasure was the highest good. This competition started in Ancient Greece but really came to the fore in the Roman Empire. The Stoics tried to maintain the traditional virtues that made Rome strong against the rising tide of decadence, which they blamed, with some justice, on the Epicureans.

A key representative of the Stoics was the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He possessed considerable power in the position of Emperor. He was a conscientious man who believed in  morality and duty. He sought to turn around the raising tide of decadence promoted by such rulers as Caligula and Nero. He failed utterly. His own son did not follow in his footsteps, but became one of the worst of those who promoted decadence. And the Empire continued its downward spiral into corruption.

Now Marcus Aurelius considered it his duty to oppose bizarre new religious sects that turned people from more traditional values. One such sect was Christianity. Therefore, this morally upright emperor promoted its extermination. One place where this was carried out was in the cities of Vienna and Lyons. And it is recorded that initially that campaign was somewhat successful and, being threatened with torture and death, some began to waver. Then there was brought forth a little slave girl. Someone with absolutely no power or prestige. But she refused to deny her beliefs under all the extremities of torment the Roman Empire could muster. For she did not stand for conventional morality. She stood for a Savior, God who had become flesh to break the powers of sin and death and hell and had proved it by rising from the dead. Therefore, He could offer forgiveness and eternal life to all who put their faith in Him. And the life and death of the little slave girl caused many who were wavering to return and stand firm in their faith. Then the faith of the little slave girl went out and conquered the world.

Now many of us today who are Evangelical Christians have seated ourselves in the seat of Marcus Aurelius. We have seen ourselves as the defenders of conventional morality against the rising tide of decadence. And we are bound to fail like he did. For conventional morality cannot stand against decadence. It is too tied to convention and tradition, and when those are no longer the consensus it has nothing to draw on. What we need to do is return to faith in the real, supernatural intervention of God in our lives to redeem and transform us. A mere generalized sense of duty is not enough. We need to be driven by a deep love of God and our neighbors if we are to stand up to the destructive forces of our age.