While I serve in elective office, I am keenly aware that the most serious problems facing our country today are not purely political, or even mostly political. I would argue that what is ailing our country is profoundly moral in nature and, as such, necessitates a spiritual antidote. It demands, in the words of Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, speaking of the American church he beheld in the 19th century, “pulpits aflame with righteousness.”
What better place to start in reflecting on the spiritual and moral health of our nation than with the first of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
According to the Bible, the Israelites were given the Ten Commandments after God delivered them from bondage in Egypt. They were not arbitrary laws to restrict or punish the Jewish people, rather they were intended to remind those freed from captivity of God’s demonstrable power and abounding love. This is perhaps most true of the first commandment in which God tells his people that he alone is worthy of their love, honor and ultimately worship.
When the prophet Moses, revered in the traditions of the three Abrahamic faiths, descends from the mountaintop, tablets in hand, he finds the Israelites worshipping a golden calf. Hard to envision today perhaps, but the temptations toward various forms of idolatry are no less real and arguably more sinister as they increasingly become the cultural norm. Think of the scourges of pornography, gambling, unbridled materialism, lust for power and drug abuse to name a few, and the broken lives they leave in their wake.
Today in America we bear witness to an insidious relativism that teaches that concepts of right and wrong are old-fashioned, antiquated and even judgmental. Vices are elevated. Virtues are mocked. Faith is squeezed out of the public square. Our culture is coarsened as a result.
These seemingly intangible realities have profound implications. Consider the following: In court case after court case the ability to display the Ten Commandments is debated and in some instances threatened. Such cases have more than symbolic relevance; they are a bellwether of sorts. But perhaps more significant is the reality that the display of the Ten Commandments is hardly as significant as the truths they contain: truths which beginning with the First Commandment to worship none but our Creator are under assault not just in courtrooms but in our culture.
Much has been written about the demise of American exceptionalism. But I believe that just as significant is the extraction of the hand of Providence from our shared national narrative.
Any faithful student of American history should be able to point to countless examples when a simple turn of events would have resulted in a drastically different outcome — an outcome which threatened the very future of this “shining city on a hill.” This is perhaps no more true than at our founding when a hearty band of patriots defied all odds and defeated the mighty British Empire.
George Washington himself famously said, “The Hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”
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Indeed, whether hailing from the Judeo-Christian tradition or some other tradition altogether, every American who enjoys the fruits of liberty ought to contemplate the “Hand of Providence” in so richly blessing this unlikely venture in self-governance.
Such contemplation can’t but result in gratitude, which is itself at the heart of worship.
Rep. Frank Wolf is in his 17th term in Congress. He represents a part of Virginia just across the river from Washington, D.C. He is the co-chairman of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, which advocates for the voiceless around the globe and is often called the “conscience” of the House. He is retiring at the end of this Congress.