Have you considered the possibility that it was your God who set up your nation? Because Paula showed us this…
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, ….Acts 17:24
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,Acts 17:26
So, look at this…
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.Jeremiah 18:1-10
And look what came later in that same book…
The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a book at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: You said, ‘Woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.’
Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land.And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.”Jeremiah 45:1-5
It’s another one of those crazy ‘what if’ questions, but Paula showed us a way of seeing this possibility through the lens of story.
You see… what if… the United States has a Black Swan inciting incident in the story?
And what if America’s story fits with what Nassim Taleb says about the role of Black Swans in history…
In economic life and history more generally, just about everything of consequence comes from black swans; ordinary events have paltry effects in the long term.Learning to Love Volatility, by Nassim Taleb, Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2012
It’s a crazy idea, right?
But look at this…
A dictionary definition of “miracle” describes “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” The rise of the American Republic qualifies on all counts. As Pulitzer Prizewinning historian Walter A. McDougall unforgettably framed the issue: “The creation of the United States of America is the central event of the past four hundred years.“ And as the eighty-one-year-old sage Benjamin Franklin observed at the Constitutional Convention: “And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”Michael Medved, The American Miracle
In our version of the story, that’s an impossibility, since God does not exist.
But the Christians in America are game with considering the impossible, right?
After all, look what we found …
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”Mark 10:27
Thirdly, of course, it is one of the splendid strokes that God rebukes alike the man who accused and the men who defended Him; that He knocks down pessimists and optimists with the same hammer. And it is in connection with the mechanical and supercilious comforters of Job that there occurs the still deeper and finer inversion of which I have spoken. The mechanical optimist endeavors to justify the universe avowedly upon the ground that it is a rational and consecutive pattern. He points out that the fine thing about the world is that it can all be explained. That is the one point, if I may put it so, on which God, in return, is explicit to the point of violence. God says, in effect, that if there is one fine thing about the world, as far as men are concerned, it is that it cannot be explained….Job puts forward a note of interrogation; God answers with a note of exclamation. Instead of proving to Job that it is an explicable world, He insists that it is a much stranger world than Job ever thought it was.G.K. Chesterton, Introduction to the Book of Job
So, if Christianity is the story we are in, and God does Black Swan moves in the stories of nations, this has our attention…
The Black Swan turn in America’s origin story may have been sent by the Active Protagonist a few decades before your break with Great Britain.
And this Black Swan was called “The First Great Awakening.”
Notice what Wikipedia says about this…
The First Awakening (or The Great Awakening) was a Christian revitalization movement that swept Protestant Europe and British America, and especially the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s, leaving a permanent impact on American religion. It resulted from powerful preaching that gave listeners a sense of deep personal revelation of their need of salvation by Jesus Christ.
Our team discovered that a whole lot of books and articles have been written about this Black Swan, some of which shed some light on the massive impact it had on America, especially in relation to the American Revolution.
And there is no doubt the impact was huge.
Consider the following comment from the noted British historian Paul Johnson…
The Great Awakening was thus the proto-revolutionary event, the formative moment in American history, preceding the political drive for independence and making it possible. …. The Revolution could not have taken place without this religious background.Paul Johnson, A History of the American People
That last sentence is yuge!
And consider this from a letter written by America’s second president, John Adams…
But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.John Adams, Letter to Hezekiah Niles (13 February 1818)
And look what the Magnet Man says about it…
The Founders well understood, as John Adams reminisced in 1818, that it was a change in the “principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections” of Americans that had sparked the Revolution. They considered that new culture of freedom that had arisen among them in the decades before Lexington and Concord, along with the new Constitution they created, to be the most precious inheritance they bequeathed to future generations of their fellow citizens. That vision offers us an instructive standard by which to gauge the present.The Vision of the Founding Fathers, By Myron Magnet, National Review, July 3, 2015
And note the following…
The Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s was the most profound social upheaval in the history of colonial America. Shaking American Christianity to its core and revitalizing religious commitment even as it threatened colonial America’s institutional churches, this first American revolution would herald the political revolution of 1776.Thomas Kidd, God of Liberty
“The Great Awakening was one of the secret springs which directed the actions of men, and, therefore, was one of the sources of the democratic movement so closely identified with the American Revolution. The evangelical doctrines … inculcated ideas of self-government … The Church was open to all alike … Thus we see in the evangelical groups a great leveling influence at work, which could not fail to have important consequences. The Great Awakening gave rise to popular forms of church government and thus accustomed people to self-government in their religious habits. The alliance of Church and State, the identification of religious with civil institutions, was found to be detrimental to the cause of religion. Perhaps unconsciously, but none the less in reality, the Great Awakening gradually welded the common people into a democracy which in the end was to change inevitably the temper, if not the form, of government.”Wesley M. Gewehr, Quoted in Martin E. Marty, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion, Awakening and Revolution
West: I don’t think we could have had a successful American Revolution had it not been for the internal transformation of Protestant theology that took place over the century and a half from the time that the Puritans and Anglicans first came over in the early 1600s to the time of the Revolution, because there really was a change in the theological understanding of things that made Christians much more likely and much more willing to support something like what the Founders wanted to do.Making Sense of the American Founding with Thomas G. West, By Chris Buskirk and Seth Leibsohn, American Greatness, October 8, 2017
A truly national identity developed slowly over the course of the 18th century, spurred on in part by the Great Awakening, a spiritual revival in the middle of the century. The shared struggle of the revolution also helped bring the states closer together.The Return of Civic Republicanism, By Jay Cost, National Affairs, Summer 2018
While revivals also took place in Germany and England, the American experience of the Great Awakening tended to cross class lines and take place in urban as well as rural areas. It was the first experience shared by large numbers of people throughout the American colonies, and helped shape the formulating American identity. Revivalists partook in large public meetings, openly criticized the elites of society, and prayed for the hastened arrival of Christ’s Second Coming and the establishment of his kingdom on Earth.THE GREAT AWAKENING AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, by Daniel N. Gullotta, Journal of the American Revolution, August 10, 2016
Religion gave birth to America, Tocqueville observed long ago. On the eve of revolution, in his last-ditch attempt to stave off impending catastrophe, Edmund Burke reminded the House of Commons of the inseparable alliance between liberty and religion among Englishmen in America. Mercy Otis Warren noted in her 1805 history of the American Revolution: “It must be acknowledged, that the religious and moral character of Americans yet stands on a higher grade of excellence and purity, than that of most other nations.” Of the Americans on the eve of the Revolution Carl Bridenbaugh has exclaimed, “who can deny that for them the very core of existence was their relation to God?”Online Library of Liberty – Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 1 (1730-1788)
And it looks like back then the American Christians did see your God as the Active Protagonist in their unfolding drama…
The Seven Years’ War, following immediately upon the massive Christian revivals of the Great Awakening in the 1740s, prepared many Americans to interpret the American Revolution as the next great contest in the course of prophetic history as revealed in the Bible.Thomas Kidd, God of Liberty
And the more we’ve looked into it, the more our team discovered that the American Founders … despite whatever mixture they were along the spectrum of theistic belief … generally saw God as the Active Protagonist in the story.
Not all of them believed in the orthodox Christian version of the story, of course. But here’s a quote which caught our attention, from an American scholar named Gregg Frazer, who wrote a book titled The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders.
The quote comes from an interview about the book…
Frazer: And they also held other beliefs that ran congruent with those of the general public, most prominent of which, most significant of which, is that they believed in a present, active God, which is one of the things that separates them from the deists. …. Yeah; I argue in my book, again, that the left is wrong on Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The academic community universally identifies both of them as deists, and I argue that they are not deists; that they believed in an active and present God.What Did America’s Founders Really Believe? A Conversation with Historian Gregg Frazer, Albert Mohler, Thinking in Public, September 10, 2012
And one of our team members came across something from what seemed an unlikely source: the American founder Benjamin Franklin.
Here’s the thing. Franklin is commonly thought of as a ‘deist’, a person who believes God wound up the universe and then just walked away.
But maybe there was more going on with Franklin.
Consider these remarks Franklin made at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, as the American founders struggled to find their way forward….
The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own wont of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.
In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when to us, how has it happened, Sir,that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.
I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.
I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.
Not exactly strict deism there.
And consider the following from your very first American president, George Washington, whom many have also labeled a deist…
And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;– to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.General Thanksgiving, By the PRESIDENT of the United States Of America, A PROCLAMATION, October 3, 1789
I am sure there never was a people, who had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs, than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency, which was so often manifested during our Revolution, or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them.Letter of George Washington to John Armstrong, March 11, 1792
The situation in which I now stand, for the last time, in the midst of the Representatives of the People of the United States, naturally recalls the period when the Administration of the present form of Government commenced; and I cannot omit the occasion, to congratulate you and my Country, on the success of the experiment; nor to repeat my fervent supplications to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and Sovereign Arbiter of Nations, that his Providential care may still be extended to the United States; that the virtue and happiness of the People, may be preserved; and that the Government, which they have instituted, for the protection of their liberties, maybe perpetual.George Washington, Eighth Annual Message to Congress (December 7, 1796)
The American Founders were certainly a unique group.
And them coming together to do what they did has its own Black Swan sense to it…
It was a genius cluster that invented America. Somehow Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Madison, Hamilton, Jay and Monroe came together in the same place at the same time and invented something new in the history of man. I asked a great historian about it once. How did that happen? He’d thought about it too. “Providence,” he guessed.A World in Crisis, and No Genius in Sight, by Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2016
But doesn’t the simultaneous presence of leadership of this quality, arising at the same moment of history, in the same remote corner of the globe, constitute a miracle in its own terms?Michael Medved, The American Miracle
Moreover,every one of the founding fathers, including those of decidedly unconventional religious faith, believed profoundly that divine providence directed their revolution. If we accord the founders so much insight and wisdom that we explain the nation’s rise with reference to their abilities, then why should we reject their unanimous conclusion that a higher power steered their affairs?
But at the end of the day, the underlying reality is the Black Swan of the Great Awakening was about human beings coming to believe the Christian version of the story we are in.
You can see this reflected in a speech by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924…
It is of a great deal of significance that the generation which fought the American Revolution had seen a very extensive religious revival. They had heard the preaching of Jonathan Edwards. They had seen the great revival meetings that were inspired also by the preaching of Whitefield. The religious experiences of those days made a profound impression upon the great body of the people. They made new thoughts and created new interests. They freed the public mind, through a deeper knowledge and more serious contemplation of the truth. By calling the people to righteousness they were a direct preparation for self-government. It was for a continuation of this work that Francis Asbury was raised up. Our government rests upon religion. The religious movement which he represented was distinctly a movement to reach the great body of the people. Just as our Declaration of Independence asserts that all men are created free, so it seems to me the founders of this movement were inspired by the thought that all men were worthy to hear the Word, worthy to be sought out and brought to salvation. It was this motive that took their preachers among the poor and neglected, even to criminals in the jails. As our ideal has been to bring all men to freedom, so their ideal was to bring all men to salvation.President Calvin Coolidge, At the Unveiling of the Equestrian Statue of Francis Asbury, Washington, DC, October 15, 1924
Salvation was the focus.
And it’s doubtful the Great Awakening preachers like Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield had the coming American Revolution in mind at all.
Their focus was on a kingdom they believed was not of this world.
And that caught our attention related to your unfolding drama in America.
You see, one of our team members came across an interesting observation from the British writer C.S. Lewis which is pertinent to the present situation in America… if Christianity is the story we are in.
You’ll see how it connects both the Quest of the King of Kings and the Greatest Commandment…
If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’; aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more — food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
That really caught our attention.
And it helped us to come to see that if Christians in America really want to keep America’s unique formula of freedom in play, they have to, well, did you see that last line?
“We must learn to want something else even more.”
So, here is something which my team is wondering.
What if … since the binary core value in the story in the Bible is loyal love/betrayal… what your God wants you to want even more… is this…
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”Matthew 22:34-40
And here’s a fascinating question my team is grappling with.
If, as the British historian Paul Johnson wrote, “The Revolution could not have taken place without this religious background.”
… then what might happen to America…
… if Americans continue to try …
… to push the Active Protagonist out of their story?
So now we are wondering — is it possible that the inciting incident in the story of the United States in some strange way foreshadows the ending of the story?
Look what Shawn Coyne wrote…
That is, the Inciting Incident of a global Story must make a promise to the reader… the ending. The ending must be a perfectly reasonable and inevitable result of the Inciting Incident. But it must also be surprising. If it is not surprising, it will not drive anyone to recommend it to his friend to read. Don’t promise something and then not deliver it. That is the telltale mark of a writer writing a book that will not work, no matter how great bits and pieces are within.Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid
So, if your God planted your nation, is he now making a move to “pluck up and break down and destroy it”?
More on that later.