In the early 1990s I had
two crucial calls on my life: service as the head of my own family
and service as pastor of a small Presbyterian congregation in Northern
New Jersey. Being ever the teacher, I was moved most significantly
by a desire to pass on what years of study had shown me were missing from
our own American culture: a profound appreciation of the role of
God in shaping our nation and civilization. Keenly aware of how far
our American culture had drifted into secularism (I myself had lived in
that mode for over 20 years), I wanted my children to be raised with a
higher sense of things in life, of the role of God in shaping them and
their world. This was exactly what I wanted my congregation to be
aware of as well – particularly as I felt that my highest responsibility
to them and to God was to prepare them to be vibrant, living witnesses
to God in a godless age.
special place in Creation
But this task was not any easy one
because there existed very little material that would back up what I was
attempting to teach. So I began by laying out the material myself.
With respect to teaching my congregations,
my approach was to get them to understand how they were the most recent
chapter of a story involving a long line of witnesses that had gone
before them in presenting the higher truth of God in Jesus Christ.
Like themselves today, these forerunners had to conduct this task in the
midst of a world caught up in the offerings and difficulties of the material
world around them. It was my hope that by learning more about how
others before them met this challenge we could perhaps discover deeper
direction for ourselves for the same task.
Indeed, in the retelling of this
old, old story, these modern-day saints began to see themselves in a new
light: they began to understand how they too were part of God's story;
in their own time today, they too were key instruments of his divine design
here on earth. It was as much up to them in this day and age as it
was to the heros of scripture in their days to live out God's divine assignment.
They were to be spiritual leaders, helping to lead others to the light
of divine guidance.
I appreciate very much Man's
power, the good works he is able to do – if his heart is right. But
even back in my secular days I realized that Man's moral logic was highly
problematic. Man seemed as often an angel of death and destruction
as an angel of life and goodness. In all my years of political, social
or cultural analysis some key component had always seemed missing in computing
the moral design of life. Man himself was not a sufficient explanation
with regards to the positive and negative directions life has taken on
this planet over the centuries. In discovering – or rediscovering
– God in my later years, I came finally to understand what this key component
First of all, apart from God's guidance
from his position in Creation, human life – or life of any kind – is an
impossibility. Einstein's theory of relativity and the theories of
quantum physics helped get me started down the right track to understand
the dynamic of life in a new, post-Newtonian or post-mechanistic way.
Life is built on relationship – and
all relationship begins with God. Through God's will, his design,
his word (his Logos), all creation has its being as it responds
to him. God is the initiator and sustainer of all that is and ever
Second of all, we humans, like everything
else in creation, exist in response to his work. But quite unlike
anything else in creation, we have been given intellectual or spiritual
powers not unlike God's. Within the full scope of a huge creation,
we humans on this tiny planet are endowed with the incredible ability not
to merely exist, but to affirm (or reject) the divine dynamic. We
are more than the rocks and ice, the heat and light, even the trees and
animals of God's creation. We are a privileged specie created by
God to join with him in giving life to all creation by our interaction
with it. We are like some kind of an audience privileged with the
power to appreciate, enjoy, celebrate God's great creation.
To make this power fully valid, we
have also the power to reject this option. Our spiritual freedom
makes the decision to join with God in working with and celebrating Creation
fully our own, dignifying us as a very special part of Creation.
But our freedom means also the ability to reject this whole idea.
But in doing so we diminish ourselves as living beings, becoming merely
part of the mechanical portion of existence.
How do we chose? Usually poorly.
Human pride or arrogance is the hurdle that we have to overcome.
Just as God is the positive pole in creation, there is some kind of Adversary
who constitutes the negative pole – at least with respect to human choice.
We commonly call this negative force Satan, the Devil, the Tempter, the
Deceiver, the Adversary, the Serpent, etc. His job is to enter our
thoughts and logic to draw us into making the choice that leads us from
God, from life. His existence in creation is what gives full meaning
to our human freedom: the full freedom to reject as well as to affirm
Once I began to understand
this dynamic I began to wonder how it ever was that we humans made the
right choice. Pride and arrogance seem so fundamental to human life.
What chance did we on our own have of ever making the right decision?
What I began to understand in reviewing
the long story of God and his relationship with Man is that God alone keeps
things on track – normally by setting aside for himself a special people
who, in covenant with him, he works with more directly in keeping the light
of divine understanding alive, so that through them the rest of the world
might always have that light serving as a beacon directing them to God
and his divine enterprise.
God made such a covenant with Abraham
and his descendants, a covenant carried forward through Moses, David and
the Jewish prophets of old. That covenant was fine tuned in Jesus
and continued forward in time through his followers in the church.
God's very grace has kept that covenant
alive, helping certain people stay on track with God as a service to all
The covenant still exists today –
perhaps in more than one form or in the hands of more than one people.
But certainly that covenant was extended to the founding fathers of America,
in particular the Puritan founders of New England who very self-consciously
observed just such a covenant relationship with God. In the early
1600s they founded their new settlement on the principle of being a covenant
community in service to God, pledging themselves (and their descendants)
to be a "city on a hill," a "light to the nations." They intended
that in America a covenant people would live to bring the rest of the world
Clearly, by the sign of the multitude
of miracles that accompanied the birth and growth of this new covenant
nation, God has faithfully continued to respect this covenant (though we
have ourselves not always been so faithful in the keeping of the covenant).
Time after time, in respect of this covenant, God has brought spiritual
renewal among us – usually in preparation for some great work (often a
war) he was calling the nation to undertake.
And so we come to our present day
and time. How are we doing with respect to the covenant? Not
But – that's how I see my call.
To help awaken America to this fundamental reality. To put Americans
of today back into "the story."