Walls have always had an incredible impact on human society. These man-made structures have been used for various functions over the millennia. They have been used to defend cities, to seal off entire populations from entering an empire-or to prevent a country’s own citizens from leaving. It has often been noted that the one human structure that can be seen from outer space is the Great Wall of China. This fact alone is an amazing commentary on the diversity of human history.
What goes up must come down
One of the best known maxims of all times is “what goes up, must come down!” This note of wisdom holds true not only for the law of gravity, but also for the forces of human history. Most walls have ultimately failed to achieve their designated purpose. They have been gone over, gone through or gone under by their attackers. Some tumbled by divine will. Others simply crumbled as they outlived their now forgotten purpose. So why do we keep building walls if ultimately they don’t work? In our time, we witnessed the peaceful collapse of the most famous wall of modern time, the Berlin Wall-the cornerstone of the great “Iron Curtain” that created two Europes for much of this century. This imposing structure, too, has fallen-in a far different way than most.
Recently, Los Angeles Times staff writer Carol J. Williams wrote a thought-provoking article titled “Wall-Toppling Trio Honored at Berlin Reunion” that commemorated the 10th anniversary of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall (November 11, 1999). Her article personally challenged me to contemplate the delicate balance of that pivotal moment. In fact, it allowed me to fully focus on the fact that it is often easier to build a wall than it is to take one down. She shared the personal recollections of George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl regarding this pivotal event. Their reflections on this historic moment are a seminar in statesmanship, and provide Christians with a valuable lesson.
Hopes and fears
The Los Angeles Times article reports on the “victory lap” of 10 years after “the Fall of the Wall” when the three architects of that event came together to be honored in Berlin for their cool-headed direction of that emotional drama. Williams squarely focuses on the challenges that faced Gorbachev, Kohl and Bush as they collectively maneuvered through “the hopes and fears of November 9, 1989, when the world as they knew it changed overnight.” It struck me that hope and fear are very close neighbors in the realm of human emotions. Yet, one tends to supersede the other in climactic moments. She quotes Kohl, then German chancellor, “It was like being on a frozen sea when it begins to break up, beginning with one enormous crack.” He goes on to share that he “worried that the euphoria in the first hours of eastern Germany’s freedom could escalate into bloody chaos.” As chancellor, he was sitting right on top of the crack.
Mikhail Gorbachev, then head of the now defunct Soviet Union, had a different set of challenges. In his own words, “Some Red Army generals and KGB figures clearly wanted to take more decisive action to keep East Germany in the Soviet orbit, but no serious threat of military intervention was ever considered.” Gorbachev warned former East German Presidents Krenz and his predecessor Honecker that there would be no Soviet intervention to keep them in power if the people of East Germany wanted democracy and free elections. During a visit to East Germany, Gorbachev had told Honecker that “history punishes those who are late”-a profound statement indeed. And it’s a somber indictment upon those who don’t understand history. What goes up, must come down!
The book of Ecclesiastes alludes to this cycle. “[There is] a time to break down, and a time to build up…a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather…a time to keep, and a time to throw away” (chapter 3:3, 5, 6). Recognizing the start and finish of these cycles in world affairs and having the courage to confront them is the difference between simply being a politician and becoming a statesman. Windows of opportunity come and go. Knowing when to do something and boldly moving through that opening is just as important as knowing what to do!
“We moved towards history”
Williams added Kohl’s touching emotional tribute to the steady leadership of the leaders of the two superpowers. “Without these two world powers and what they did, the confidence that they had in us, none of this would have been possible.” Kohl was on the edge of tears and patting Gorbachev’s hand as he recalled the historic moment. Williams accurately captures the geopolitical trauma of that time. Many in Eastern Europe were wary of German reunification, but with Gorbachev’s consent, along with that of the U.S., Britain and France (the governing powers of post-war Germany), the fears of Poland and other victimized nations of World War II were allayed. Gorbachev gave sharp definition to the moment and action: “We didn’t resist reality, we moved towards history.”
Former President Bush, the third player in this drama, related some of the dilemmas of his role in removing this obstacle of fear and repression. Williams states that Bush at that time had concern that too much celebration of Cold War victory might backfire on the Soviet leader. “We in no way wanted to make life more complicated for Gorbachev.” This fear comes to the fore again and again in recently declassified papers of Bush’s administration surrounding this period of superpower cooperation. Some in Washington felt that Bush was “too restrained.”
As we look back, it’s clear that Mr. Bush chose not to put his energy into “a morning-after party of Western victory,” but rather into the peaceful dismantling of a terrible wall. The lessons of history are fraught with the evidence that overdone victories and rigid peace terms are merely the seeds of despair, as well as of the next conflict. Gorbachev credited both Bush and Kohl by telling of the trust he had “in both men to keep the emotions of the period under control to avoid further upsets in the roiling Soviet Union.”
“Moving towards history” can come with a price tag. As Williams goes on to state, “ironically, the three world leaders whose close coordination and confidence in one another allowed the denouement of East Germany’s liberation to transpire without bloodshed also paid a price.
“Gorbachev was ousted from the Kremlin in 1991, Bush would lose an election to Bill Clinton in 1992, and Kohl’s 16-year reign as Germany’s leader ended last year. Yet at the end of the 10-year commemorations to the Berlin Wall’s demise, these men were lauded by the world famous Soviet-born cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich. He memorialized the entire affair with a musical eulogy dedicated to the fallen victims who were killed in their attempt to escape over the wall and to the leaders who knew ‘when to cast away stones.’ Rostropovich defined the concert as a personal tribute to these ‘three great men, these three great kings.’”
Shouldering the responsibility
As I read this article about worldly leaders tackling an obstacle together, certain biblical principles began to resonate through my mind. Here, at one pivotal point of world history, were three men with different languages, ideologies, agendas and faiths (or the absence of faith). Yet together, whether they understood it or not, they were attuned to some powerful godly principles in destroying a divisive wall and building bridges towards healthy relationships. At the end of the ceremonies, Gorbachev looked around and said, “We managed to shoulder this responsibility well.” These three men didn’t act alone, but are thought of as a union of three just as Rostropovich dubbed them “three great men, three great kings.”
God vividly illustrates in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 9 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.
10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up.
11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?
12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
American King James Version×that working together simply produces more strength and well being for all involved. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
President Bush in his pivotal role as leader of the free world showed great concern not to overtly blow the victory horn. What does your Bible say about pride? How do we relate it to diplomacy abroad and in our homes? Proverbs 16:18 Proverbs 16:18Pride goes before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
American King James Version×warns that “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” but verse 19 continues with the encouragement: “Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.” “The Fall of the Wall” could have been great spoil! Instead, there was humble, sensitive outgoing concern by leaders who rose to the level of statesmen. Notice the warning and encouragement of Proverbs 13:10 Proverbs 13:10Only by pride comes contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.
American King James Version×: “By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom.”
A world without walls
Notice in Isaiah 2:12-17 Isaiah 2:12-17 12 For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be on every one that is proud and lofty, and on every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:
13 And on all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and on all the oaks of Bashan,
14 And on all the high mountains, and on all the hills that are lifted up,
15 And on every high tower, and on every fenced wall,
16 And on all the ships of Tarshish, and on all pleasant pictures.
17 And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.
American King James Version×what God declares He is going to do when He introduces a new civilization to this earth. “For the day of the LORD of hosts shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up-and it shall be brought low-upon all the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan; upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up; upon every high tower, and upon every fortified wall; upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all the beautiful sloops. The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.” What goes up, will come down once and for all.
The kingdom of God is going to dramatically alter human history. There will be no more succession of kingdoms, armies or walls built on the graves of previous earthly societies. The “Ageless Kingdom” will, henceforth, simply be-there will be none other to take its place. Isaiah 26:1-2 Isaiah 26:1-2 1 In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.
2 Open you the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in.
American King James Version×reveals that this kingdom has a different form of protection. “We have a strong city; God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in.” Humanity will no longer spend its collective intellect and creative energy on walls-whether literal or in the form of myriad weapons-but come to trust in a world that will see its citizens focus on relationships with God and one another, “eye to eye and heart to heart.” All will enjoy freedom of movement, freedom to grow, freedom from fear and freedom to see one another, because no wall blocks their view.
Don’t resist the reality
If the truth were known, all of us have a lot more walls in our life than is spiritually healthy for a Christian. Not walls of stone like the Berlin Wall or even the garden wall out your back door, but walls put up over time between family, friends and fellow Christians that appear just as formidable as any of the great walls of history.
The reality is not whether we have personal walls to confront, but what we are going to do with them. It takes a lot of wasteful energy to maintain and sustain barriers of fear, be they brick or be they emotion. Let me ask a simple and direct question to you the reader. How many walls have you put up between yourself and others this past year, and how many bridges have you built towards others who aren’t necessarily your first choice of neighbors, friends, coworkers or family members? Your answer to this question is a revealingly accurate measurement as to how much you truly want to be a part of a future “world without walls.” Yes, we all have some work to do in “bridge building.”
Three wise men in their time oversaw the demolition of a wall that lay in their path. Their wisdom echoes the millennial refrain, “This is the way, walk you in it,” as they shouldered the opportunity not to resist the reality before them, but moved towards the future, together. WNP