The Scourge of God: The Danger of Short-Term Gratification
Updated: May 13, 2019
In the year 452, Attila the Hun marched his armies to the doors of Rome. He came with all the fires of hell at his back, and it looked as though all was lost for the defeated Romans. Then fate intervened.
Fire blazed across Italy. They called Attila "The Scourge of God." The man lived up to his name. He was ruthless, violent, and seemingly unstoppable.
If you read our previous article, "The Snake That Eats the World," you'll realize that Attila was a form of Jormungandr. Both the mythic serpent and the horseback conqueror were nothing short of destruction incarnate.
Yet when Attila reached the walls of Rome, he turned back. Why? Nobody knows for certain. He doesn't appear to have been bribed. He didn't seem to have gained anything.
What we do know, however, is that a small group of diplomats rode out to meet Attila. Among them was Pope Leo I, typically known today as Leo the Great. Whether he and Attila spoke at length is still a mystery. Tradition, however, attributes Attila's decision to march away to Leo's skill at negotiation.
The tradition might be wrong. It doesn't matter. What matters is the point of the tradition: When faced with utter annihilation, choose someone with integrity to stand between you and the scourge of God. Choose someone who embodies heroic sacrifice.
The greatest temptation we face as human beings is short-term gratification.
Heroism, then, consists in playing the long game. The hero is he who sacrifices his temporary happiness in the name of duty to a higher ideal. Yet this alone isn't enough. One of the most horrifying twists of fate is how dedicated the National Socialists of Germany, the Nazis, were to their allegedly higher ideals. That sort of dedication isn't only undesirable, its the most pernicious sort of evil that has ever existed.
So, there must be a commitment to all of
mankind, as well as the higher ideal. Consider Socrates, the Greek philosopher who willingly went to his death after being charged with corrupting the youth of Athens. Socrates, secure in his knowledge that he was innocent, decided it would be better for all mankind if he exemplified sacrificial obedience rather than escaping with his life.
In the Christian Scriptures, this role is fulfilled by Jesus Christ, who dies a gruesome death at the hands of the state while experiencing utter spiritual abandonment. He deserves none of this, but suffers it willingly that all mankind might be saved. If the best things that the West have to offer are built on any one story, it is this one.
So what is the Scourge of God? Divine retribution. The Scourge of God is the effect caused by our continual failures. Christians understand this through the lens of sin, cosmic transgressions that constitute treason against a kingly God.
In daily life, we experience this reality frequently. Too much alcohol leads to a hangover. The decision to speak harshly to a son or daughter leads to lasting bitterness. An inappropriate comment made in the heat of the moment can have a lifetime of consequences.
The Scourge of God, then, is the retribution we know to be coming. It cannot be avoided, but it can be negotiated with. No one is faultless, and most humans are willing to show a little mercy if an apology is offered sincerely and quickly. Not always, but often.
Yet this requires integrity. The solution most of us opt for is to deny our infractions against society and nature. Remember that the next time you agree to one more drink, or when you begin to be lured into gossiping behind someone's back. The fire brought by the Scourge of God is a good sign that Ragnarok is on its way. Put those fires out quickly, or they can consume a whole forest.