Two hundred and forty years ago ink collided with paper to create one of the most important documents in the history of our world. On July 4, 1776, fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence, a proclamation of freedom from British oppression and an announcement of birth for the United States of America.
When these men came together to establish our great country, they included a short, simple phrase which is the foundation for their entire argument. It is one of the best-known sentences in the English language.
“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.”
Until today, I’ve never really taken the time to read the Declaration of Independence. This is the founding document of our country and it provides the very freedoms that I celebrate every day, yet in my own self-absorption I’ve never appreciated what it says.
As I read it this morning, the validity for the entire document is contained within four words: “endowed by their Creator.”
The United States of America was founded on the premise that our freedom is not our own. Regardless of your religious beliefs, regardless of your skin color, regardless of your income, regardless of where you grew up, the freedoms that you celebrate have been entrusted to you by your Creator.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness get their origin from the One who created them. If you hold fast to the ideals of equality and freedom, you are, in essence, holding fast to God. In a world that has become increasingly anti-religious, we call it patriotism and freedom. But that freedom was given to you.
We Are the Creation, Not the Creator
When my daughter, Sara James, was born, it reminded me of the miracle of life. If you’ve never experienced pregnancy or watched a birth, it is truly amazing to see life created. As I think about that experience and read the words from our founding fathers, we have to remember that we are the creation, not the Creator.
The independent spirit of America has begun to morph into a radically individualized version of independence. And as the self-elevating society has grown, we have deflated and reduced the very thing that gave us those freedoms.
“That which is created can not look upon its Creator and question, “Why have you made me like this?'” —Romans 9:20
It takes humility to understand, but the beautiful promise of the gospel is that while the creation will pass away, the Creator remains. Our hope is that we have a choice to join with the Creator into an eternal home. Much like the empires of old, America will eventually fall away, but the kingdom of heaven will not.
God Isn’t American
American Christians are mistaken that this country is supposed to be God’s kingdom on earth. We’ve grown up believing that “God, family, and country” is penned somewhere in the Bible. It isn’t. God isn’t American. God is eternal.
We can waive our American flag and fight to defend it, but we are citizens of heaven first. Our kingdom is beyond the borders of these United States and we can never lose sight of that. We have been given a freedom that can not be taken from us regardless of who’s in office, regardless of what’s on the news, and regardless of the opinions of popular culture.
I love America and that which it stands for, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of believing that being “American” is being “Godly.” Righteousness and patriotism don’t always go hand-in-hand—one is eternal and the other is temporary. We must choose that which is eternal.
I will fire up my grill, go for a ride on my boat, and watch fireworks with my family while singing America the Beautiful, but at the core of everything patriotic is the freedom that is afforded by a Father who loved me enough to grant me a kingdom that is unshakable.
If you read our Declaration of Independence, you’ll see that our founders knew that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were sourced in eternity. If only we are willing to humble ourselves before God, He’s loving enough to give us a glimpse of heaven here by the very freedoms He promises.
So, take pride in America, but keep your eyes on heaven.