This weekend we are going to be celebrating around the country our nation’s independence. I don’t know about you, but from my perspective, we have a great deal for which we as a nation can be thankful. We regularly stop to say thanks for our mothers on Mother’s Day, for our fathers on Father’s Day, and for our veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Is it too much for us to say thanks for the country in which we live on Independence Day?
I am not much for fireworks. Oh sure, I enjoy a good fireworks display with the rest of the many people who show up for them, but it is not a necessary ingredient to my Fourth of July celebration. In the past, when I have attended fireworks demonstrations I have taken lots of pictures of the seemingly hundreds of chrysanthemum sprays, blue strobes and flaming silver-and-gold clusters that flash over our heads like a gallery of flickering lights. With the hundreds of people around me, I have oohed and aahed with each bottle rocket, strobe and spinner that light up the night sky. But then I have never gone back to look at those pictures. In fact, if I have per chance reviewed them, there is always one question which passes through my mind: “Hmm… I wonder what year this was?”
In considering this holiday weekend, I do want to remember, and be thankful for, our country though. I do want to recall the cost of achieving our independence from Great Britain — how many lives it took and how much those who “declared” that independence paid to gain it. Even though I disagree with him greatly on a spiritual level, I admire Thomas Jefferson for the work he did in crafting the documents which from the beginning have formed the foundation for our great nation, commonly called, “the American Experiment.”
The fact is, though, that the experiment is still ongoing. The end of the experiment has not arrived. And to date it is still a very successful one, no matter what one may think about the current state of affairs.
But, even more important than our declaration of independence is our declaration of dependence. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it,” the psalmist cries out. Any effort to build a house — or a country — on anything but the foundation of the Lord is building a house of cards, and it will one day collapse in a heap.
At the height of the Civil War, as the rebel troops were moving toward Washington, D.C. with relative ease, a conversation was reported between Edwin Stanton and President Lincoln. Stanton declared to Lincoln that, “I sure hope God is on our side.”
Lincoln replied, “Mr. secretary, I am not near concerned about that so much as I am that we are on God’s side.”
In other words, Lincoln was declaring that he hoped that we as a nation were not declaring our independence from God, but instead our dependence upon Him. He echoed that thought in a prayer that he prayed publicly for our nation in 1863. That prayer is worth repeating here in 2022, and hopefully reflects the thoughts and prayers of each and every one of us here in 2022: “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown; but we have forgotten you, O God.
“We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. 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 who made us.
“It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
May this be the prayer of each of us as we celebrate this Independence Day.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at email@example.com.