Did anyone like me have a somber July 4th? I was watching fireworks but very melancholy about the whole thing. In fact, I think it was the saddest fourth of July I’ve ever had. The “rocket’s red glare” and the patriotic music just seemed to leave me cold this year.
At first I felt guilty for feeling bad, and did not want to spoil the night for my kids. They know, I am normally a very patriotic dad. Not that I favor country over God, or want to be a part of mindless patriotism. Not that I believe the kingdom of this world is more important than the kingdom of God. But I have always felt a deep love for this country because of what it stands for, and God’s unique blessings upon it. Its vision of an ordered liberty, its unique creed, and the wonderful opportunities it has given to our family, all make me grateful for being a citizen of the United States of America.
At one point in my life, I seriously considered serving in public office. I have dragged my family around to all the national historical sites. I routinely put out my flag on national holidays. I try to honor every solder and vet who has served our country.
But I simply found it hard to celebrate this year. Why? Was it simply because this is being described by pundits as “our summer of discontent?” Unemployment is over 9%, the recession is deepening, there is gridlock in DC? A recent poll indicated that that 48% of Americans believe another Great Depression is likely, and 44% believe that our best days are behind us. That’s not exactly optimism.
What was at the root of my sadness was something deeper……a question. The question is—has God favored our undertakings lately?
The great seal of the United States bears the Latin motto Annuit Coeptis. On that seal is the eye of Providence. Many believe that at the beginning of the United States, there were numerous gracious interventions of Providence in the American cause. That Latin phrase means “He (God) has favored our undertakings.” When that motto was originally proposed it initially came out even stronger, as Deo Favente Perennis, i.e. “Enduring by the Favor of God.”
The Declaration of Independence itself appeals to God as creator who endows us with blessings and rights. It declares its reliance on the protection of Divine Providence. But it also appeals to God as the Supreme judge of the world who is able to discern the rectitude of our intentions.
How does Supreme Judge of the world view us today? Do we have his favor still?
Do we when we celebrate liberty as an end in itself and not liberty under God as our founders envisioned? Do we when we celebrate and normalize immorality, and institutionalize it in law? Do we when we redefine marriage, ignore his design for the family, and undermine the moral, spiritual and economic foundation of our children? Do we when we spend way above our means, to the point where the Treasury warns of catastrophic economic consequences if we do not again raise the ceiling on our massive debt? Do we when we have the highest incarceration rate in the world, (more than Russia and China combined)? Do we when continued corporate scandals reveal the lack of an ethical compass in many parts of the national marketplace? Do we given the growth of extreme sports and the growing coarseness of popular culture? Do we when we continue to be the top porn producing country in the world? Do we when in our schools and public life we meticulously root out every reference to God and every trace of His influence? Do we when we become calloused to the poor and hungry in our country and in the world? Do we with our permissive abortion laws (over a million abortions a year; less than 2% because of rape or incest)? Do we when the current administration becomes more intrusive in college and seminary education than ever before? Do we when so many of our churches and seminaries drift from the Scriptures and an uncompromising affirmation of the lordship of Christ? Do we when the administration opens relations with the Muslim Brotherhood (which is committed to “civilization jihad” against the United States) even while we slap around our best ally in the Middle East?
And why is it that parts of our country are starting to feel third worldish? Why does the quality of service in everything from car maintenance to home repair seem to be so shoddy? And quality hospital care seem to be going down?
This is not essentially a partisan rant. It is a lament at the spiritual trajectory of our public and national life.
In another time, if there was ever any doubt that we had His favor, presidents might call for a time of humility and prayer. In our day, we continue to shoot off fireworks and sing God Bless America.
Consider Abraham Lincoln’s words in 1863. America was in the midst of another national crisis. So the president called for a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. His proclamation said:
“It is the duty of nations, as well as of men, who owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by a history that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord. The awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has grown, but we have forgotten God.”
Clearly, for Lincoln, it was not a time for celebration, but for humiliation.
Has God favored our undertakings lately? Rather than answer this, I simply leave you
with the question.