Today we celebrate the 236th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of the United States of America. In the second paragraph of the Declaration the founders wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Today let us reflect on these words and their meaning to us in our age.
We are living in an age of increasing dependence. No, not the good dependence that we know should exist between us and our God, or even between us and our fellow man. The dependence I speak of is between the citizen and his/her government. In area after area our government is asked to do more and more for us. Sometimes we invoke the government’s involvement because we want protection or help, but oftentimes government gets involved on its own because it wants to protect us from ourselves and because it believes it knows better than we do in a given area.
Surely there is a sense of security in relying on the government to take care of us. It is big, it has resources that we do not have, and it cares about us. Why not, then, ask the government to do more and more? It protects us from all enemies foreign and domestic. why not also have it make sure the food we eat is safe and healthy? It provides for the seniors, poor and disabled, the most vulnerable among us, why not let it manage our healthcare and our hospitals too? Government funds all kinds of research and projects, can it not also be trusted with the education of our children?
We all know that the more we entrust to the government the more it will want us to entrust to it , which brings me to the problem. Government, both state and local has begun to think of itself as the primary entity that we should depend on. It has begun also to see itself as the giver of our rights in the first place. In addition, our dependence on government looks more and more to me like the dependence we are to have upon Almighty God. When government starts to act like God (seeing itself as the entity that gives us our rights) and is treated like God (we are dependent on it for so much) government becomes a god to us.
Please note again where the signers of the Declaration saw our rights coming from. They said that all men equally ”are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Note that in the founders’ eyes God gave us our rights. The source of our rights was no one or nothing else other than God. Note also their view of government. They said “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. Government is thus instituted by men deriving any power it has from the governed, i.e. men.
The founders, because of their experience with the King of England (remember we were but a colony of our cousins across the pond), knew first hand of the fragility of human government. Government is made up of human beings who are finite even when all are working together. In addition to being finite government is also subject to the depravity we all are subject to. Government is made up of the flawed and fallen. We sometimes think of corporations and business as being greedy for money and thus evil. We often forget that governments are not immune to this. The same sinful proclivity is at work in the people who run government as those who run corporations and that the same lust or greed is at work as well.
At its core the Declaration of Independence is a proclamation of independence from the English government. It is a document that lets the world know that we are a people who are free from the tyranny of the long arm of fallen, broken, frail, flawed, finite government. It is also something else. It is a declaration of dependence on God Almighty. Listen to some of the last words of the Declaration. The founders wrote, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” The firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence speaks to where their trust for this endeavor was. It was in God and God alone.
As we reflect on our freedom in the next few days, let us remember that our freedoms are rights from God. Let us also remember that much of what our country was founded upon was freedom from government and its intrusion in our lives. Then let us pray that we will always be a free people, ”one nation under God and indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
An NYC Shepherd