On December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a somber, but resolute President Franklin Roosevelt, after strapping on steel braces to his legs, walked into the U.S. House chamber, supported by his son Jimmy. He addressed a joint session of Congress, and asked for a declaration of war against Japan. During times of tumult and trial, most Americans expected our country to prevail victoriously. At the end of Roosevelt’s address he verbalized what most citizens believed, “With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounded determination of our people we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.”
It wasn’t unbridled arrogance. Steadfast confidence in His benevolence in a battle against evil was common. It wasn’t partisan. It announced a steadfast reliance on an omnipotent and loving God. Our history is punctuated by references to God’s intervention in space and time.
General George C. Marshall, referenced his unswerving confidence in our “Heavenly Father,” quoting a line from President Abraham Lincoln, as the War Department dispatched innumerable Western Union condolences to families who’d lost a loved one during WWII. Whether we are battling a foreign enemy, or reeling after a major natural disaster, historically we’ve sought God Almighty’s help. We’d be shocked to hear a leader say, “We can do this on our own without any divine intervention.” On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln gave an address in Springfield, Illinois, accepting the Republican Party’s nomination to be its candidate for the U.S. Senate. At the outset, he uttered what’s become one of the most famous phrases in our history, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He drew this analogy from the words of Jesus, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” His audience understood his meaning: slavery and freedom were incompatible. It’s part of our public discourse.
At the first hint of a “breaking news alert” on our 24/7 news cycle, most anchors promptly add, “Our thoughts and prayers are with them.” Whether it’s sincere, or rhetoric, it’s nearly a knee-jerk reaction. We have a history. Is it in our DNA? Of course there’s a few atheists who would reject that notion. They’re rarely found in the midst of disaster. Acknowledging God during such upheaval is what defines our country. Lt. Everett Alvarez, after eight years in the “Hanoi Hilton,” returned home and told America, “Faith in God, in our president, and in our country-it was this faith that maintained our hope.” How could one say that after more than eight years of unspeakable torture?
President Ronald Reagan, in his first inaugural address referenced the words from the diary of a young enlistee in WWI, Martin Treptow, from Iowa. On the flyleaf of his diary, he wrote, “America must win this war. I will fight cheerfully, and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended upon me alone.” Reagan added, what most Americans believe, “The crisis we are facing today…requires our best effort, and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform good deeds; to believe that together, with God’s help, we can and will resolve the problems that now confront us. And, after all, why shouldn’t we believe that? We are Americans.”
It’s not just during wartime. When one’s diagnosed with a ravaging disease, one’s likely to reach out to loved ones, often the public, soliciting their prayers. There’s a recent troubling trend with the tone of a series of national ads run by the MD Anderson Cancer Center, picturing cameos of cancer patients, who individually attack, an initially unknown assailant, “You stole my breast,” “You tried to steal my life,” “You stole my husband.” The ad subsequently reveals that “assailant” is cancer. Hubris rears its head, as they conclude, “We will win.” Single-handedly, they’ll defeat cancer. No hint of help from a source outside themselves, other than research, and their unmitigated defiance. In a slight-of-hand, a red line’s drawn through the word “Cancer,” and a new name appears: MD Anderson Center. Conversely, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, promotes an approach to healing that incorporates a spiritual component in their integrated approach to combat cancer.
This week, a middle-aged California mother, survived a terrifying accident, after her car plunged nearly one-hundred feet off the road. When interviewed, she was asked why she thought she survived, she replied, “Sheer will to live!” “To see my children.” We understand that’s a component of many survivals. However, most survivors acknowledge divine intervention. That mother may believe what she said. If so, that’s unfeigned arrogance, considering our heritage of private and public reliance on God. Most understand that the will-to-live and faith in God’s omnipresence, aren’t mutually exclusive.
The questions should be, “Are such maladies and diseases beyond His realm?” “Is His arm too short to reach cancer, or any disease?” The public domain’s nearly saturated with the “pink cure” for cancer. It approximates a cultural drama. The Susan G. Komen website touts a grandiose promise to “end breast cancer forever,” with groundbreaking research, community support, and unmentioned “exorbitant CEO salaries.” Considering the scope of their stated mission, not openly enlisting God’s advocacy appears cavalier to the faith community. It seems out of the mainstream of American thought. Some repugn supporting a wholly humanistic approach to healing.
According to Jeffrey Levin, Ph.D., in his book, God, Faith and Healing, reports some startling connections between spirituality and health. Johns Hopkins University researchers discovered an apparent positive link between regular church attendance and an active prayer life, and health. Coincidental? At a personal level, if you were confronted by a life threatening medical diagnosis, or vexing existential dilemma, wouldn’t you rather have God’s promises and assets at your disposal? Or just go it alone? Many evangelicals believe any portrait of our nation, absent His presence, is an incomplete picture; and absent His touch, most endeavors come to naught. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org