Twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down. I don’t remember it. That is, I don’t remember it being a single cataclysmic event which I have a distinct recollection of hearing about, but I do remember hearing about it over and over for months. Perhaps I would have understood its significance more if I had not been 10 years old at the time.
Even if I don’t have a distinct memory of how significant it was, I am now aware of the various causes that people have attributed it to. I read an article today in the NY Times that talks about various answers to the question, “What made the Berlin Wall fall down?” (and what triggered the fall of communism throughout Eastern Europe?)
The article says that “different groups in different countries see the anniversary differently, usually from their own ideological points of view.” The two main points of view mentioned in the article are these:
1. The fall of Communism can be attributed to Ronald Reagan, with his “aggressive military spending and antagonism toward Communism.” Most people in the United States tend toward this view, according to the article.
2. On the other hand, most people in Europe don’t think that Communism fell because the West was hard – they think it happened because the East was soft. It was really Ostpolitik and West German TV that brought about the softening and eventual collapse.
I’m not going to argue for which of these is the correct interpretation. But as a Christian, I wonder: where is the spiritual interpretation of events? I don’t expect the New York Times to come forward with it, so here is a quote from a different article found on a Reuters blog called FaithWorld:
The many anniversary celebrations, documentaries and discussions now underway across Germany seem to focus mostly on how fearless street protesters and astute politicians pulled off the “peaceful revolution” that ended communism. Films and photos of dissidents packed into the Gethsemane Church in East Berlin or Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche), the leading houses of worship that sheltered them until the Wall opened, are among the trademark images. But those crowded “peace prayer” evenings were only the tip of the iceberg of behind-the-scenes work by pastors and lay people who considered it their Christian duty to promote civil rights and human dignity in a rigid communist society.
This article was about Christians in Germany. I have read a couple of biographies of Pope John Paul II, and I cannot help but think that the millions of Poles who greeted him on his official visit to Poland in 1979 with chants of “We want God!” had something to do with the fall of Communism in that country (Peggy Noonan wrote an article about it shortly after John Paul’s death in 2005).
When I lived in Hungary, I also learned about Jozsef Mindszenty, the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church and an adamant opponent of Communism.
And I read this in Revelation 8:3-5:
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
In other words, this passage teaches us that the prayers of God’s people are taken up, filled with fire, and hurled back onto the earth. How many people, both inside and outside of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, prayed for the end of Communism?
I don’t think that we will ever know beyond argument what caused the fall of the Berlin Wall. But in all of these debates about who or what caused Communism in Eastern Europe to end, let us not forget the prayers and efforts of thousands of Christians all over the world. They believed that each human being is made in the image of God, and they believed that that image was being squashed by Communism. Before we declare an unqualified victory for Reagan or militarism or Ostpolitik or anything else, let’s remember that.