Subject: Our National Day of Prayer: what Lincoln and Solzhenitsyn understood
Jeremiah 13:25 “You have forgotten Me, says the Lord, and trusted in falsehood.”
President Donald Trump chose May 4, the National Day of Prayer, to sign an Executive Order that promotes religious liberty, announcing that “no one should be censoring sermons,” and “we will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced again and we will never stand for religious discrimination.” The order states it is now administration policy to “protect and vigorously promote religious liberty.”
With many of the leading religious leaders attending the signing in the White House Rose Garden, Trump invited The Little Sisters of the Poor up on stage with him, publicly congratulating them on their court win against the Obama Administration (the contraception mandate in ObamaCare had made it impossible for them to continue their work in the US). They are a Catholic religious group for women who have dedicated their lives to the service of the elderly. Trump told them “your long ordeal will soon be over.”
With all the celebration going on, perhaps many of us forget the purpose behind the National Day of Prayer. What has been called the darkest hour in American history, while our nation was in the middle of the Civil War and its very existence was in jeopardy, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution asking President Abraham Lincoln to appoint a day of national prayer and fasting. Here are sections of the speech Lincoln gave in 1863 that designated America’s first national day of humiliation, prayer and fasting:
Whereas, it is the duty of nations as well as of men to owe 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 Lord:
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
Let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high and answered with blessing no less than the pardon of our national sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”
Now over 154 years old, Lincoln’s speech still defines America today: 1) America’s tremendous growth in wealth and power are God’s blessings, 2) America’s secular belief that these blessings aren’t from God but due to our superior wisdom and virtue, 3) America, steeped in pride and self-sufficiency, has forgotten God.
Only 34 years ago (1983), Alexander Solzhenitsyn echoed Lincoln’s thoughts with his famous ‘Men have Forgotten God’ speech: “While I was a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that befell Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God – that’s why all this has happened’. I have spent 50 years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God – that’s why all this has happened. And now, if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire 20th century, I would be unable to find anything more precise than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.”
We are at a major crossroads in American history: we have a very unconventional President, with no political background, who is promoting a much friendlier attitude towards religion. But as our verse this week emphasizes, it’s not religion that needs promotion – it’s the God of the Bible whom both Lincoln and Solzhenitsyn announced is the source for not only the incredible peace and prosperity America has always enjoyed, but for the healing and forgiveness we desperately need at a time of such great division.
“The Evidence of Faith’s Substance”, Article #242