US Customs and Border Patrol recently seized a forty-four-pound shipment of corn flakes from South America. The reason: its flakes were covered in cocaine instead of sugar. Bico, a narcotic detector dog, flagged the shipment in Cincinnati, Ohio.
As long as there have been laws, humans have attempted to break them. The first humans broke the first law in human history (Genesis 2:17; 3:6-7). The first child ever born murdered the second child ever born (Genesis 4:1-8).
From then until now, our story is one of laws and lawbreakers. Criminals are sometimes caught, as with the ninety-five-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard who was deported from Tennessee back to Germany last Saturday. Many are not: according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, fewer than half of crimes in the US are reported; according to the FBI, fewer than half of reported crimes are solved.
Every day’s news brings further proof that our secular culture desperately needs a great spiritual awakening. This is why, as I noted yesterday, you and I need to live in submission to the Holy Spirit out of a passion for Christlike character (Romans 8:29). And why we need to pray and work with urgency to help everyone we influence do the same.
The hour is later than we know. But the hope we offer is the hope our nation needs today.
The only nation founded on a creed
Britannica defines “government” as “the political system by which a country or community is administered and regulated.” It lists monarchy (rule by a monarch), oligarchy (rule by a small group), and democracy (rule by the people) as the main approaches across history. For most of Western history, the first two forms were predominant.
In fact, the article states that the Constitution of the United States “opened the door to modern liberal democracy—democracy in which the liberty of the individual is paramount.” As British writer G. K. Chesterton noted on his first visit to our shores in 1921, “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.” That creed is contained in five words enshrined in our Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal.”
Because we are all “created equal,” none of us has the right or the capacity to rule another. The American solution is to enact laws by the consent of the people, then to elect leaders to enforce them, again by the consent of the people. If we see that our laws need to be changed, we amend our Constitution or otherwise enact legislative remedies. If we see that our leaders need to be changed, we elect new ones.
The entire enterprise rests upon the belief, radical and nearly unprecedented in history, that people can govern each other.
However, we cannot govern each other if we cannot govern ourselves.
Abraham Lincoln predicted our future
Abraham Lincoln gave his first major speech on January 27, 1838, shortly before reaching his thirtieth birthday. In it he asked, “At what point shall [America] expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?”
He expanded his question: “Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years.”
Lincoln continued: “At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
He claimed that “general intelligence, sound morality, and, in particular, a reverence for the Constitution and laws” would be essential to our survival. Then he closed: “Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.'”
Mr. Lincoln was right: Character is essential to democracy. A free people can govern each other only if they can govern themselves.
Our nation’s "indispensable supports"
Our Founding Fathers were clear on this fact. Of the scores of founders and quotes I could offer to prove this point, let’s focus today on our first president. George Washington stated in 1796, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
Lest we think that the latter can stand without the former, Mr. Washington continued: “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
I will say it again: a free people can govern each other only if they can govern themselves. And because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we cannot govern ourselves unless we submit to the governance of God by his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and his word (Hebrews 4:12).
The good news is that the Spirit of God can transform us into a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and empower us as “ambassadors for Christ” to be the change our culture needs (v. 20). We have great hope, so long as our hope is in Christ (Colossians 1:27).
A warning we must heed
Today we are claiming the hope we find in Jesus. Tomorrow we will see why this is our only hope as a people.
For now, I will close with a biblical text that grieves me for the nation I love and motivated today’s Daily Article. What God said to the children of Israel he says to us today: “If you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish” (Deuteronomy 8:19).
Clearly, the greatest service you and I can render our nation is to be catalysts for spiritual and moral awakening before it is too late.
How will you answer this call today?
Publication date: February 23, 2021
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Anastasiia Stiahailo
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
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