Like many Americans stranded amid the acrimonious and petty discord into which the American political discussion has degenerated, these days I often find myself wondering exactly how America has wandered so far from the principles and unity upon which she was founded. How did the America which almost unanimously stepped up to the plate to defeat Nazi tyranny, and Japanese imperialism degenerate within my lifetime into a nation of whiners and cowards who can’t abide any opposing viewpoint? We all have our favorite villains whom we say (and sometimes may even believe) are at fault – corporate greed, congressional stagnation, judicial activism, executive overreach, media bias, youthful ignorance, white privilege, climate change and its denial, etc. And of course “those” people, whoever “they” may be, take the brunt of our ire. Whenever we’re not blaming some class of people, there are specific individuals we love to hate and blame as well – Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, George W. (and H.W.) Bush, George Soros, Oprah Winfrey, Al Sharpton, Ruth Bader-Ginsberg, Elizabeth Warren, John McCain, Rosie O’Donnel, etc. It seems that the only thing we all agree upon is that the fault certainly doesn’t lie with us personally.
America has always been vastly diverse, with opposing political positions often adamantly – even violently – expressed. Even despite the tremendous “progress” made in weaponry over the last century and a half, the American Civil War still holds the record for American casualties in warfare – Americans fighting each other over deeply held political beliefs. We are European-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latin-Americans, and Native-Americans, but until recently, whenever the chips were really truly down we always came together as un-hyphenated Americans, set aside those things which divided us, and united together for the common good and for the preservation of the American ideal which we all held in higher regard than our own personal beliefs and aspirations. What is it we have lost that we once held in common? What once overrode our differences, and brought us together in unity, but no longer has the power to do so?
One morning a few days ago, I awoke once again pondering these questions as I seemingly often do these days. At the same time, I wondered what scripture to choose for my morning Bible study. While I lay half-awake, greeting the LORD in prayer, He laid Psalm 106 on my heart. After morning ablutions, and a quick check of the news – which always seems to be about some group of Americans protesting some other group of Americans – I settled in for my Bible study. Psalm 106 hadn’t immediately come to my memory when the LORD spoke it to me. It’s a fairly long psalm, so I won’t quote it all here.
Like many of the psalms (and all good prayers), this one begins with praise and thanks to God.
1Praise the LORD!Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!For His mercy endures forever.2Who can utter the mighty acts of the LORD?Who can declare all His praise?3Blessed are those who keep justice,And he who does righteousness at all times!4Remember me, O LORD, with the favor You have toward Your people.Oh, visit me with Your salvation,5That I may see the benefit of Your chosen ones,That I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation,That I may glory with Your inheritance. Psalm 106:1-5 [NKJV]
Like the psalm, America too was founded upon devotion to God, as evidenced in the introduction and preamble to the Declaration of Independence.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
America remained a Christian nation, devoted to God for most of its history, even up until the end of World War II. Indeed, the first Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was enacted to preserve the rights of all Americans to freely worship God in whatever manner they choose. Freedom of religion is the first right delineated in its text.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
America’s devotion to God was further woven into the fabric of the nation when President Abraham Lincoln established a national day of Thanksgiving by presidential proclamation in 1863. Congress passed a law establishing a National Day of Prayer each May in 1952. The United States’ National Motto, “In God We Trust,” which has been engraved on our money since 1864, was officially codified into federal law by Congress in 1956. The Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., where the nation’s highest court has met since 1935 to pass judgment on questions about our Constitution and federal code of law, has a frieze upon which are engraved God’s Ten Commandments – the original source of those laws. For most of America’s history, children in many of her public schools recited The Lord’s Prayer each morning, along with the Pledge of Allegiance. In response to our devotion, it would be hard to deny that God has indeed blessed America, and brought her to preeminence among the nations. Over the course of our history, the bond which secured God’s blessing has been America’s unified gratitude and devotion to God. Yet over the last half-century we have witnessed America’s devotion to God erode away, and with it God’s blessing and our unity as a people.
Psalm 106 details a similar turning away from God by the children of Israel, and laments the disastrous results for that people. After beginning with praise and thanks to God, the majority of Psalm 106 is devoted to the long history of God’s chosen people – Israel – and their rebellion against God. Those unfamiliar with this history may miss some of the nuances of the Psalm. Might I suggest a Bible study based on this Psalm using a good commentary like Matthew Henry’s?
America, too, over the course of my lifetime has systematically turned its back on God. In 1962, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that prayers mandated for students in public schools were a violation of the very Constitutional Amendment intended to protect the free practice of religion. Over the years since then, legal limitations on prayer and placement of religious symbols such as stone engravings of the Ten Commandments in public places have become increasingly restrictive through broad judicial interpretation of the First Amendment. The teaching of Creation in the nation’s public schools – while not outright illegal – is strongly discouraged, and has become a rarity, even as an alternative to Darwinian Evolutionary theory which is taken as “gospel” in most school curricula today. Numerous hitherto unsuccessful attempts have been made to remove the United States’ Motto from our coinage, to eliminate federal support for the national day of Thanksgiving each November, and the National Day of prayer each May. Ten Commandments monuments and Christmas nativity scenes are now banned for all intents and purposes on virtually any public property.
Perhaps worst of all, though, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in the landmark Roe v. Wade case legally removed many state restrictions on abortion, and subsequent decisions by various federal courts have further reduced such restrictions to the point where the murder of unborn children for any reason at all is now legal throughout the USA, and is indeed regarded legally as a woman’s right. The wholesale contract killing of innocent unborn children by their own mothers is eerily reminiscent of one of Israel’s sins delineated in Psalm 106 when the people began to practice child sacrifice to the Canaanite god, Moloch – a bronze idol which was heated in a fire, and then children were placed alive onto its arms to be burned to death.
37They even sacrificed their sonsAnd their daughters to demons,38And shed innocent blood,The blood of their sons and daughters,Whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan;And the land was polluted with blood.39Thus they were defiled by their own works,And played the harlot by their own deeds.40Therefore the wrath of the LORD was kindled against His people,So that He abhorred His own inheritance. Psalm 106:37-40 [NKJV]
This issue of abortion has caused more division among American citizens than any other in my lifetime. More recently, God’s holy institution of marriage, and even His creation of men and women with distinct genders has come under attack. America has rejected the laws of God in favor of moral relativism – the idea that whatever an individual decides is right, and that society has no power to enforce an objective morality. Clearly America is in rebellion against God’s will. Consequently, God has removed His blessing from America. Our government is paralyzed, and our people are battling each other as at no time since the end of the Civil War. The United States of America is united in name only. America has certainly invited God’s wrath through her rebellion, just as the people of Israel did until God allowed the Babylonians to carry them into captivity.
Yet we know that God did not abandon the nation of Israel. Psalm 106 makes this clear.
43Many times He delivered them;But they rebelled in their counsel,And were brought low for their iniquity.44Nevertheless He regarded their affliction,When He heard their cry;45And for their sake He remembered His covenant,And relented according to the multitude of His mercies.46He also made them to be pitiedBy all those who carried them away captive. Psalm 106:43-46 [NKJV]
America too has hope in God. If we turn from our rebellion, and return to the godly devotion upon which our nation was founded, He will restore us to His blessings just as He has the children of Israel. So let us pray with the psalmist…
47Save us, O LORD our God,And gather us from among the Gentiles,To give thanks to Your holy name,To triumph in Your praise.48Blessed be the LORD God of IsraelFrom everlasting to everlasting!And let all the people say, “Amen!”Praise the LORD! Psalm 106:47-48 [NKJV]