There’s so much talk these days about making America great again.
Recent headlines suggest we’d first better make America good again.
True greatness always flows from goodness. They go together.
And to make America good again, we must personally embrace liberty as that freedom to do what is right – by God’s measure – not freedom to do whatever we want, or whatever feels right to us in the moment.
Case in point: It felt right to at least one person to kill five police officers in Dallas this week. Yet it was undeniably, horrifically, wrong. Just as it’s wrong that so many black people are getting shot by police.
When we call evil good, and good evil, or allow each person to decide their own good and evil apart from any concrete standard, we’ve no hope ever of becoming good again, let alone great.
This cause-and-effect relationship between greatness and goodness was something our nation’s founders simply took at face value. Their words invite us to do likewise.
America’s second president, John Adams, unambiguously correlated greatness and goodness.
“Our Constitution,” said Adams, “was made only for a moral and religious people.”
He was not alone in thinking this.
Consider the words of his predecessor, George Washington: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”
Adams’ and Washington’s sentiments seem pious by today’s standards, but were actually normative among signers of America’s Declaration of Independence.
For the signers, independence did not mean erasing moral and ethical boundaries defined by God in the Bible. Nor did independence mean each person got to choose his own right and wrong.
For them, independence meant the freedom to live with a conscience informed by truth as defined in Scripture.
America would be great, they believed, in direct proportion to her goodness. I mention this not to give a history lesson, nor to sermonize. But to suggest that we not let any discussion of American greatness be detached from a discussion of her goodness. In other words, your goodness. And mine.
A great country requires good people, starting with us. That means more of us will have to stop:
discriminating against others based on heritage and race;
retaliating in anger;
demonizing those with whom we disagree;
insisting on the legal right to be morally wrong.
Greatness comes closer to reality when more of us start doing things like:
accepting that God alone defines what is good;
desiring that God-defined goodness for our communities, though it may cost us personally;
pursuing what is useful and profitable for others, not merely ourselves.
In the Psalms, God’s people were reminded that their wellness as a people was attached to their right relationship with God. “Happy are the people whose God is the LORD!”
The people most associated with America’s storied greatness – her founders – seemed to accept that truth and weren’t afraid to say so.
Benjamin Rush, also a signer of the Declaration, put it this way: “The only foundation for … a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”
Like many people, I long for America’s return to greatness. But there is no shortcut.
So much the better to first make America good again.
Steve Massey is pastor of Hayden Bible Church (www.haydenbible.org). He can be reached at (208) 772-2511 or email@example.com.
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