Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Courage to Stand

During 1775-76, the American colonies suffered a string of defeats, including the unsuccessful invasion of Canada, the battles of Brooklyn, Manhattan and White Plains, and Washington's retreat into New Jersey. The grand army assembled by Washington to meet the British in Brooklyn almost disappeared. It declined from over 20,000 in September 1776 to less than 4,000 by December, when the dramatic battles of Trenton and Princeton were fought. . . . These losses were by and large the result of discouragement—the impact of successive defeats with concurrent disillusionment and a growing rate of desertion—and the departure of soldiers, and indeed whole units, who returned home at the end of their short-term enlistments. . . .

As shown by the Battle of Brooklyn, the Revolution, if successful, would be won as a war of the thirteen colonies united as a nation, with an army representing the whole, not parts of it, or factions, each with its own contribution to make but also with its own local agenda....With the Battle of Brooklyn, the Congress was forced to reassess its thoughts about a national, standing army.

—James Dingeman in the Introduction to The Battle of Brooklyn, 1776, by John J. Gallagher

On my desk beside my computer stands a small, framed quotation that says, “Joan, trust me. I have everything under control. Jesus.” I look at it often as I work on my projects.

It occurs to me that we so often either forget, or doubt, that God really does have everything under control. Every day’s news includes accounts of more casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the build up of nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea, the continuing genocide in the Sudan and other places, famine, natural disasters, appalling crimes, and on and on that tempt us to wonder whether God even cares or if he ultimately possesses the power to put an end to these evils.

Surely Washington must have wrestled with the same issues as he watched his army slip away in the days and months following the debacle at Brooklyn Heights. Where is God when we need him the most? Why doesn’t he intervene to set things right when everything has gone so wrong? Why does the good always seem to be under such implacable attack—and losing? Is God in control, after all? Or is God only the name we give to some indifferent cosmic force out there in the universe?

Over the years I've grappled with all these questions—and more. And the conclusion I've come to may seem like a cop-out to some people, but in the end it's the only conclusion that makes any sense.

I once read the statement that God is his own arbiter. Because we are not God, because our minds can never comprehend the vastness of the universe God created, much less the mind of the One who created it, we are not capable of seeing the fullness of God's purpose and will at work in our world. God reveals to us what little we can understand and then requires us to trust him for the rest. Sure, we can shake our fists at God or refuse to believe in him, but what does that accomplish when he is the one who sets the parameters of our existence? The unalterable truth is that God will judge us, we will not judge God. God is what he is whether we like it or agree with it. Our opinions and preferences, where they are not in line with Truth, are simply irrelevant. In this life it is not our responsibility to decide what Truth is, but to discover Truth and live by its light.

At Christmastime in 1776, Washington stared the stark reality of his army's situation in the face and made the only decision he could make short of giving up the conflict and facing execution for treason. He went on the attack with an achingly small force of ragged, half-naked, ill equipped, and exhausted men. They attacked through a raging nor'easter, driving though a blizzard of howling wind, ice, and snow that no human should be able to survive to fight a well-equipped and formidably trained enemy that decisively outnumbered them. Several men froze to death waiting for the boats that would ferry them across the Delaware. But Washington refused to turn back, and his steadfast determination inspired the men he led to feats none of them thought possible. And they won.

Indeed, the Revolution would be won as a war of the thirteen colonies united as a nation, not by factions pursuing their own individual agendas. The patriots of that day trusted their fate to God and refused to give up the liberties the Almighty had given them. They unflinchingly made the sacrifices that were necessary to see the war through and secure the blessings of liberty for the generations that followed. Are we prepared to make those same sacrifices today? Will we set aside the narrow regionalism and political agendas that sap our strength, blind our vision, and bog us down? Will we choose to earnestly seek God's will instead of our own individual, and temporary, advantage?

Only time will reveal the answer to those questions. I pray that our nation will take courage, earnestly implore God’s help, follow the path of righteousness wherever God may lead us, and leave the results to the One who alone rules the future.

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