Pick up a dollar bill and have a look at it. You'll find, in addition to some rather elaborate decorations meant to foil counterfeiting, the simple phrase, "In God We Trust." When taking the time to really read that overly familiar phrase that passes under our hands countless times each day, one question that arises is, are we telling the truth? Do we really trust in God?
This fall Americans will line up again, by the millions and millions, to cast their vote for one of two presidential candidates. Unless something extraordinary happens between now and then, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will represent their parties. After the votes are cast and counted, one of these two men will have the legal responsibility to serve the country in the highest political office of the land and as leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world. One of these two men will carry into the office his own personality, his experiences, his preferences, his philosophies, and his agenda. Regardless of how great or small a leader the next president will be, working in the Oval Office will not magically change him into something he is not. A US president, however many levers of power he may control, is still a human being whose socks need washing and whose toilet needs scrubbed.
Certainly the decision about the next president is a very important decision for every American to make. Huge issues face our country. How do we make the health care system both high quality and affordable? How do we establish national security if Iran develops nuclear weapons, or worse yet, if they use them? Is the rapidly increasing national debt, which has grown by several trillion just in the past three years alone, an imminent threat to American's survival? How can the millions of illegal immigrants be treated fairly while protecting our sovereign national borders? After years of combat in Afghanistan, how can we avoid seeing the country completely fall back into the hands of religious totalitarians? These huge problems and many more require wise, strong, and deeply committed leadership.
But didn't we just say that a president, however noble, is still just a person? He or she may be a little smarter than the average person, may have some wealthy and powerful friends, but is still just a person with limitations, biases, and liable to make mistakes. In the weighty matters of state, even those that determine life and death, political leaders are mere mortals. We are all, like sparks from a fire flying upwards, born unto trouble briefly. Only in the fantasy world of film are the heroes super-humans.
It is true that in the early days of the American republic not all the leading founders were Christians. Jefferson was a liberal deist and Franklin was a sort of thoughtful skeptic who had respectful conversations with church leaders Yet it is likewise true that with one mind they designed a government system of checks and balances, believing that humans are not perfect and even the best of people can abuse power if they are not kept in check. That's a Christian concept, deeply rooted in the notion that human nature is fallen, hopelessly prone to wander from goodness. Congress, the president and the supreme court balance each other, none can act independently, none, in theory at least, can usurp the others and seize all the power. It's an amazing system that has made the United States the oldest constitutional democracy in the world.
The founding fathers did not stop with the idea that men in power should keep an eye on each other to stay honest. They believed men should keep their eyes on God while he keeps his eyes on them. Almost without exception, they believed in a universal Law and a Law-Giver who sat as the just and perfectly good judge above all human governments. In their minds, presidents, congressmen and judges would all have to answer to Him. And they reasoned that without God, there could be no universal human rights and no human authority had the right to govern. On March 30, 1863 Abraham Lincoln expressed this in his proclamation of prayer for the nation saying, "it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord."
Lincoln said that trusting God isn't merely a private matter, it's a public matter, a national matter. That these words came from a president, the one whom some think the greatest president of all, soberly remind us that whomever walks away from this November's election as the winner will not be the person we trust for our welfare, our prosperity, our future or our hope. There is one and only one who is worthy of that kind of trust. Someone who is beyond politics, beyond elections. In God we trust.
Ron Coody is a Ph.D. candidate in Intercultural Studies at Concordia Seminary. From 1993-1998, he lived and worked in Kazakstan doing environmental work. Since 2002, Mr. Coody and his family resided in Istanbul, Turkey.