Mark Hall, leader of the band Casting Crowns, tells the peculiar-but-true story of Emperor Qin Shi Huang and his plot to cheat death, in this excerpt from Hall's recent book The Well: Why Are So Many Still Thirsty?
Our Terra Cotta Army: From The Well by Mark Hall
Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of China, but he came to power as king of his province at age thirteen because his father died on the throne...
Qin was more than precocious. He is credited with unifying China into the massive empire it is today and was the force behind weaponry, architecture, and construction inventions and expertise still in use.
As profound a life as Qin lived during eleven short years as emperor, he remains most intriguing because of his death — or how he prepared for it. [In 1974] local farmers near Xi'an unearthed three gargantuan pits now housed in an underground building the size of an airport hangar.
In these pits are more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, and 670 horses. They're not the remains of his real army; they're the six-foot-tall sculpted figures in his make-believe army.
Image by Maros Mraz, via Wikimedia Commons.
China's first emperor went to his death and was buried with his terra cotta army. Terra cotta, as in the clay pots we use as planters for flowers...
Some say he was a good person; others say he wasn't the best guy in the world. But for history's sake, he at least unified China and created a central government that had never existed. He morphed six languages into one. He created a universal currency
that China used even into the twentieth century. We're not talking about a brawny, mindless beast; we're talking about a brilliant, talented man... Qin [even] began work on [the Great Wall of China!]
I share all of this to pose a question. How did such a genius reach the point of making something as useless as a terra cotta army — a veritable sea of carved statues?
We should know. We do it all the time.
Good things were happening, but when something bad happened, he scrambled to figure out his own answers.
We get distracted by our own plans and ideas when we think we know better than anyone else, even God. It's called wanting something more, something better. Qin took his eyes off what he was doing and valued something else...
In the middle of creating an empire paralleled by few, Qin made enemies. He knew this and ordered that he alone could possess a weapon inside the royal complex.
A trusted confidant snuck into the emperor's chambers with a knife hidden inside a scroll. The move backfired. He missed the emperor, who went ninja on the would-be assassin and killed him. Once again, Qin proved himself a force. But the attempt on his life from a friend was personal, and it messed with his head.
The emperor changed. On one hand, he knew he had great power available to him. But when somebody tried to kill him, he realized the one rival he couldn't beat was death. Emperor or not, he faced the same eternal questions all of us face.
Qin flaked out. He grew obsessed with this new foe. His thought process went something like, I've conquered politics; I've conquered construction; I've conquered the science and art of war. Now I must conquer the last, greatest foe. I must conquer death.
He sent out word to all the alchemists and witch doctors, asking spiritualists for any kind of potion or spell that would help him live forever. For some reason, he landed on mercury. He began consuming the poisonous element when an adviser told him it would help him live forever. Not wise.
Meanwhile, Qin grew unsettled after thinking about all the armies he had defeated. When I reach the afterlife, they're going to be waiting for me. I've got to figure out a way to conquer the afterlife.
Maybe it was the mercury, but the emperor hatched the idea of sculpting an army. He expected the warriors would fight for him after his death and guard him in the next life.
Qin had one small problem. His warriors were made of clay.
Image by Tor Svensson, via Wikimedia Commons.
Clay is mud. And mud is dead. This is what is at the bottom of every hole we create — dead mud...
How many of us started out with passion after salvation, ready to spend time with God every day and tell everyone about Jesus? How many of us were so fired up that we could've said in all sincerity, "I love the Lord so much I now know with his help I can handle the temptation that used to trip me"? Many of us started off great, but somewhere along the way something changed. Maybe we faded because of complacency.
You have never slipped God's mind. Even if you haven't thought about him since the last time you walked through a church door, he has been walking with you...
Or maybe something blindsided us, as with Qin. Somebody tried to kill him, and he threw his whole plan out the window. He unified territories and built a magnificent dynasty, and everything turned because he freaked out after someone snuck a knife into his room tucked inside a scroll.
Good things were happening, but when something bad happened, he scrambled to figure out his own answers. Sound familiar? ... Whether in matters physical or spiritual, human beings have an amazing capacity to long for the next best thing. Most of the time, however, the next best thing is our idea and not God's. Sometimes we want something better because we're not satisfied with God's blessings. Sometimes we're not satisfied with even God himself...
I bought each of our students a miniature replica of one of the terra cotta warriors. I wanted the statues to remind them of what happened [to Qin]. We can start out great only to allow hard times or fear to take us in the wrong direction as we go it alone.
What do the statues represent in your life? Don't build an army over whatever it is. It is something God alone can handle, so wait for his answer. Unlike Qin, we believers have a steadfast hope. What we have that Qin didn't enjoy is a God totally undistracted when it comes to us.
You have never slipped God's mind. Even if you haven't thought about him since the last time you walked through a church door, he has been walking with you, watching you, talking to you. And God has been trying his best to catch your eye because ... he pursues you...
Learn more about The Well: Why Are So Many Still Thirsty?
Follow Mark Hall on Twitter (@markhallCC)
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Image by chensiyuan, via Wikimedia Commons.