America once again stands at the crossroads of human history, with the eyes of the world looking on, wondering at the choices we will make. For centuries, this has been the land of the free, the home of the brave, a beacon of enduring hope, and a place of genuine promise. Lady Liberty stands with her torch held high crying out: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” And immigrants from around the world have streamed to these shores with the hope and dream of a better life. This was one place you could come to with the dream of owning a piece of land—that is, if you came and worked hard and cultivated the land, you could actually have something that was “yours.” You could make your way and build a better life. That was the American dream—it said hard work mattered. It wasn’t going to be given to you, you weren’t entitled to it, but the opportunity was there. It inspired you to believe, to hope, to try. It said if you dared to dream and were willing to risk, you could create, innovate, and see your dreams come true.
Is that dream dead? Are those days over? Sadly, some, dejected and in despair, have given up and say, “It is.” Others hurl insults and deride America as the source of all the great evils in the world. For a misguided and ungrateful few, it has become fashionable to mock her former glory and ridicule anyone who has ever believed in her greatness. But are they right? It would seem that we are in the throws of a national identity crisis, no longer sure of who we are or where we are headed. We don’t know if it’s okay to be proud of being an American and all the good that once represented, or if we should be ashamed and apologize for our existence. Caught in that conundrum, is there any wonder why we find ourselves in this predicament? An intimidated victim of political correctness gone awry, we are in danger of squandering a heritage that was once the envy of the entire world. Why? In large measure, because we have forgotten where we came from and what has made this country great.
America did not become the world’s greatest superpower by accident. The principles that were sown into the fabric and foundation of our society are in large part what have enabled America to become the most prosperous, freest nation on the earth, with the most enduring constitutional government known to man. Those are no small feats. But America is not great just because of the great ideas that gave her birth and the great ideals by which she lives; America has been great because for the most part she has been good. She has been the defender of freedom, a help to the needy, a rescuer of those in crisis. As opposed to a tyrannical dictator with a global hunger for conquest, she has been a benevolent force of stability and blessing to much of the world. When nations have been in trouble, America more often than not has come to their aid as the biggest global mobilizer of help. I shudder to think what the world would be like if America had failed to respond in World War II and enter the fight to stop Hitler and his totalitarian Nazi regime.
Has America always done what is right? Always chosen what is good? Always fought for the noble cause as opposed to her self-interests? No, and I don’t imagine any nation on earth has or ever will. To pretend otherwise would be incredibly naive. Civil governments are not God, and nations do not make decisions or enact policy; people do. In as much as those in power have chosen to do good, to honor what is right, and have sought the welfare of those around her, America has been a force for good. Is she without fault? Certainly not! From early on, slavery was, is, and always will be abhorrent, as were the misguided notions of “Manifest Destiny.” Her push westward sadly gave rise to a host of inexcusable horrors that destroyed the Native Americans.
Yet despite a checkered past, what has made America great is that she has demonstrated a capacity to learn from such mistakes. Thankfully, there have always been those who decried such evil; refusing to participate or comply, they stood their ground and called her to live up to a higher standard—and in those critical hours, repeatedly America has been awakened to rise again. She has been the greatest when she has been on her knees, seeking God’s blessing and the wisdom to do what is right. America is great because time after time, in the moments that have mattered, she was willing to stand up and fight for somebody else’s freedom. Go ahead and decry her failures and failings all you want; throw her sins in her face and refuse to grant her any redemption—but in chaining her to condemnation, what will you have achieved? In so doing, are you not seeking to ensure her destruction? Such blindness seems just as misguided as the refusal to acknowledge any national wrongs. But our story is not finished.
It is an undeniable fact: America has a great history. It is and has been a great nation. But just as freedom is something that is passed as a legacy from one generation to the next, the question is, what will we do with what we have been given? What has made America great is what can make her great again. An essential ingredient of the generations that truly have been great is that they did not selfishly seek their own welfare only, but faithfully labored and fought for others and posterity. Jesus taught that he who would be greatest must be the servant of all (Matthew 20:26; Mark 9:34–35; Luke 22:26). What made past generations great is that they served and sacrificed and sought to leave this place better than how they had found it. History would be their judge; they knew it and lived in light of that sobering reality. Those who have ever achieved anything great have never lived or labored with the expectation, or dare I say the illusion, that it would be given to them, let alone that they had an entitled right to it. We each have the God-given inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—but it is exactly that: a pursuit, not a guarantee. In never having had to personally pay the cost or fight the fight for the freedom and privileges we enjoy, younger generations do not adequately comprehend the sacrifice that was made.
Yet, what has made this nation great is not just the ideas, the ideals, or the hard work ethic; it’s not just that its people have sought to do good, to serve others, to care for the needy or to help those in crisis; it’s not just her willingness to fight for freedom and for the freedom of others—all those things are great, they are noble and worthy ends. No, the truest source of America’s greatness is that she has belonged to God. At her founding, she dedicated herself to His purpose, and for most of her history, she has honored Him as the true source of all her many blessings. I know of no other nation whose most oft-repeated phrase or closing reference from the overwhelming majority of its leaders, down through history to this very day, is “God Bless America.” It is a prayer as well as an honest acknowledgment.
The original covenant that was established on the shores of Virginia in 1607 dedicated this land to God’s purpose of taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ into all the world; they purposed to raise up godly generations after themselves and called for this “Covenant of Dedication” to remain to all generations, as long as this earth remains. Remarkably, the Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth in 1620 did much the same thing, as did the Puritans who came in 1630. They all used the language of covenant and dedicated themselves to the purpose of God. Like it or not, that is the undeniable history of this land and the beginnings of this nation. And that covenant remains. This is “one nation, under God, indivisible,” whose stamped motto is “In God we trust.” In as much as we honor that relationship, as do our founding documents, it is from Him that all of our blessings flow.
Let us then with wisdom heed the words of Isaiah 51:1: “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug.” Israel was then told to “look to Abraham” their father, the father of faith, the father of our faith; “and to Sarah who gave birth to you,” the child of promise, “in pain” (v. 2). As a nation, the people who founded this great land referred to themselves in similar fashion to Abraham, as people who “knew they were pilgrims in the land”—we are fellow heirs to that same promise:
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, . . . looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:8–10).
Much like Abraham and Sarah, our Pilgrim Forefathers and the Founding Fathers and Mothers were above all a people of faith. They were a people who honored God, who honored His Word, and who honored one another. They were noble people, with noble and lofty goals, who sought to call forth that nobility in one another. They sought to live as “free men” who had joined themselves to the Lord; saints who also welcomed strangers, who covenanted to set up a society that would extend that freedom to others, uncoerced. Knowing that the eyes of the whole world were upon them, they sought to be a shining city on a hill, a light of hope and a beacon of freedom to the world. But above all, they were a people who loved God and sought to honor Him. If we cease to honor God as the true source from which all this flows, we will not have the grace to be great. Micah 6:8 instructs us: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Lady Liberty, before she called for the tired and the poor, first said: “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” That is rarely quoted, but perhaps they are apt words to be heeded. Many great nations have gone before us and have fallen. A triumphant self-willed arrogance will be of little help in the face of such seemingly insurmountable difficulties. James 4:6 declares: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The last thing we need is some chest-beating, fist-pumping display of proud arrogance. We are in serious trouble and very much in need of God’s gracious help. But the dream still exists; all it needs is a few dreamers who have both the courage and humility (for you will have need of both) to choose to walk in the footsteps of our forefathers.
No! The dream is not dead; neither is hope, for where there is breath, there is always hope. God is not dead, and His purposes for this land are not finished. Yes, there is much work to do; and yes, the challenges are great. Never-the-less, for He is always-the-more, we are not alone and the promises remain: “[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). The principles upon which this nation was founded, and which when followed have allowed it to be exceptional, are not dead; they remain to be applied and are proven to be effective. The documents of freedom, forged in the furnace of affliction, are meant to be an enduring, guiding light; they are still very much intact and need only to be followed. But principles are not what has made this country great; it’s the people who have embraced them and lived it out that do.
Some would say America is teetering on the brink of disaster;
I would say perhaps she is standing in the doorway of an unfinished destiny. Liberty is standing there at the threshold, keeping watch, issuing what is another rarely quoted part of her invitation: “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” There yet remains a golden door of opportunity; God’s purpose and His covenant of blessing endure.
With the eyes of the world upon us, I believe Lady Liberty is waiting, beckoning us to just step through. May we be a generation who take up the torch of liberty and choose (having done all) to stand therefore—to be a people who covenant to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. That is the key to our former greatness, and it is what will make this nation great again. That is an America we can all be proud of. May she once again rise to the challenge and soar.