We are in a world of hurt. Oh, the world has always been frequented by hurting. I’m no referring to that. I’m referring to a nation and society that is no longer great. And the hurt is not in the acceptance of that. We can recover from bad times. It’s our inability to admit to what we secretly suspect—America is no longer worthy of greatness.
Greatness needs no props. No insistence. No reassurances. It simply is. Just as dignity is as it behaves. A man is dignified when he acts the manner. Great and exceptional nations are so because of their actions, not their proclamations and self-appraisals.
Nations that are in decline are the last to admit to the reality of the situation. Their actions become questionable and disappointing. In a healthy soul, this would lead to self-examination, repentance, and efforts to return to better behavior. In a sick soul, such things are shoved behind denial and diversion. The ability to persuade others through the power of character and example weakens. And in response, such nations turn to demands and violence, always supported by loud proclamations to remind others that they are indeed exceptional and great. Above the law that applies to all men.
When diplomats can no longer urge change in other nations through the power of example, they turn to the threat of sanctions. Or send in the CIA to make a subtle and deadly correction in leadership. They turn to training subversive elements. Funding revolution and civil war. The ends suddenly justifies any and all means. Torture. Assassination. World war.
And America is there. It didn’t happen overnight. Not that we were ever a great nation if being great means being righteous before the eyes of God. Never has such a nation existed and never will one exist in this world. For, as the Bible teaches, no man is righteous. But there is a continuum that exists between utter evil and the Kingdom of God. And there are times when men and nations move closer to God. When they move closer to establishing his laws as the only basis for determining good and evil.
Great men and nations do not proclaim their status because they have seen the source of true greatness. The effect of being exposed to what is actually great is to be reduced to a trembling awareness of our own sinfulness. As was Isaiah, when he was placed in the presence of God’s holiness. Or Peter, when he became aware that he was in the presence of not just a man, but the Creator. Their response was fear and trembling. Our only hope for human greatness is to find it in humility—to pattern if off the greatest human that every lived, Jesus Christ. Greatness that finds itself in humiliation finds no better example than Christ, from his humiliation by taking on human flesh, to his humiliation upon the Cross. Greatness is God, in all his glory, walking humbly among men. Rising to the top by lowering himself to become the servant of the lowest sinner.
In the past several decades the United States has occupied a position of being the worlds only super power. And as Lord Acton reminded us, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Power lures, seduces, and deceives the bearer into thinking that it is proof that he must be great. Exceptional. Above the laws and limitations that restrain other men.
Aiding the deception have been the forces of modernism, humanism, and material wealth, and their progeny of social pseudo-sciences and psychological theories. We now find ourselves a thoroughly narcissistic culture, obsessed with ourselves. A confused lot, we believe we can simply create character qualities by insisting them so. Some of the manifestations of this are the movements related to generating self-esteem by dictate. We are good and worthy because we say we are. Call it propaganda of the self. Repeat a big lie over and over and you actually start to believe it.
Having to turn back to our history for examples of greatness is another clue of it’s present absence. When I run into the rabidly nationalistic and err by questioning our greatness, I usually receive anger in response. How dare I question our greatness? And then comes the list of great things that our nation has accomplished, such as freeing the world from Hitler and conquering communism. Those are highly debatable accomplishments, but even if we allow for them, they are things of our past, not our present. And the motive spoils the whole effort, for such a list is almost always given to justify questionable actions and behaviors of the present—the current violence that we are carrying out across the globe. Great men and nations need not reach into the past for evidence.
When the presentation of a list of accomplishments fails to establish greatness, the doubter is generally labeled as being a traitor. The final step is to end by telling him to leave the country if they don’t like it. It is clear admission of failure, but rarely seen as such in the angry mind of the person who wants desperately to believe that they are part of a great nation of people. You can hear the spirit of Pee Wee Herman saying, “We really, really, really, really are.”
That last position reveals desperation—if we all will simply commit ourselves to our mutual greatness, we will be great, indeed. That our greatness is found in insisting upon our greatness and then going forward in unison. The same that one sees throughout history when terrible men lead nations into terrible times. God is with us! God is on our side. But it’s no more than the greatness felt like fans of a football team. And maybe that’s not far off, as I was reminded after 9/11 when I saw cars driving around with an American flag flying off of one side, and the flag of their favorite football team off the other.
God is great. There is no other. He is great because of who is his, and he has proven it through Jesus Christ. Only as our nation returns to recognize his greatness and authority will we assume any greatness among nations. And that can’t be accomplished by political change. I will never happen through government programs, world dominion, or a resurgence of patriotism. It can only happen when God himself does the work, changing the hearts of men though the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Lest I neglect the fact that I wrote this primary for posting on liberty.me, which is about liberty, let me finally make the connection. The ultimate worldly moral that comes from an awareness of the greatness of God is to love God and love our neighbors. The Golden Rule. To behave in a manner that reflects the reality of God. It is exemplified in the principle of non-aggression. Truly great people do not commit aggression against their personal neighbors body or possessions. Nor do they collectively commit aggression towards other nations and groups of people. To be such a people would earn the right to be called exceptional.