The ruins of Stonehenge lie north of Salisbury, England. To this day, despite intensive research and discovery, the purpose of this 4000 year old monument remains a mystery. No one knows for sure why or even how it was built. The large stones are believed to have been transported from Marlborough downs, a distance of 20 miles while some of the smaller stones (still up to 4 tons in weight) may have been brought from Wales – nearly 160 miles away.
It is difficult to explain how, using primitive technology, such large pieces were moved such great distances. The project continued for nearly 1000 years and required the labor of thousands of individuals. The sheer scope of the effort suggests that Stonehenge was hugely important to the ancient people of Britain. But we don’t know why. The site fell into disuse and disrepair, and its significance has long been forgotten.
Today, in the former country of Yugoslavia, dozens of monuments commemorating World War II battles stand abandoned and forgotten. Millions per year visited these sites 30 years ago, but 500 years from now, will anyone know why they are there? Some of these sites are already beginning to look like ruins and even today they are virtually unknown outside of their own territory.
In the Bible, speaking of the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus said, “there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down (Matthew 24:2).” And within a generation, his words came true. Indeed, the world and all its works continue to pass away (I John 2:17). Even the great and noble things of this world do not last, nor do the memorials we create to honor them.
And yet we still look in awe at the mystery of Stonehenge and we admire the work of its nameless creators. I suspect that, if they stand, the monuments in Yugoslavia will evoke a similar response many years hence.
More than the monument, though, the legacy of Stonehenge lives in the people – the descendants of the ancients who built it. The culture that created Stonehenge is one of the building blocks of the English-speaking world that exists today.
In the same way, those neglected monuments to World War II represent a generation that sacrificed and suffered greatly and that, for good and for ill, shaped the world as we know it.
And for us, too, that is what will ultimately last. Not the projects completed, houses built, or possessions obtained. None of the physical creations will be remembered, but the ideas, the interactions, and the character that shapes our works will also shape our futures.