Today we celebrate Memorial Day, a day where we both remember and honor those Americans who gave their lives in service to their country. Originally, Memorial Day was established to honor those who had died in the American Civil War, but later was expanded to include those who fought and died in any of America’s conflicts.
It is important to keep in mind that every culture in the world chooses to remember and honor those things that it values. This is something that we also do as individuals. We put pictures on the walls of our favorite memories, or we decorate certain areas of our homes to remember lost loved ones. The same is true for cultures. In the case of the United States, we have memorials for 9–11, Pearl Harbor, and the Civil War. We have these things because we want to remember what happened and we want to honor those Americans who were involved.
But sadly, the culture of the United States is beginning to shift, to the point that we no longer care to either remember or honor those who came before us. And why is that? Because, in our arrogance, we have deemed them all to be racist oppressors, whose positive contributions (if any) are completely outweighed by a system of exploitation that they either established or upheld.
We know that the United States is not, and has never been, sinless and perfect. But it is equally true that it is not to be compared to Mordor. Of course, in order to judge the merits of the United States (or any nation for that matter), one must determine the standard by which it is to be judged. Will it be the whims and feelings of the current generation or a more objective, universal, standard? That is a key question we must answer.
But before we do, we need to remember that the United States was founded upon Christian principles, even though we recognize that some of the founding fathers flirted with either Deism or Unitarianism. Just consider that American common law originated from English common law, which itself was built upon the standard of God’s law. This can be traced back to the 900s, where King Alfred the Great (the last Anglo-Saxon king) established the law of his kingdom based on the Bible, particularly the law of God as found in the Mosaic law-code. In doing so, he established a Christian system of law that eventually became the bedrock of American law.
Even those founding fathers who were not orthodox Christians recognized the importance of the Christian faith. John Adams, in a letter written to the Massachusetts militia in 1798, stated the following:
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Over a century earlier, William Penn (a devout Christian) established the colony of Pennsylvania and structured its law upon Biblical principles. His recognition of the importance of the Christian faith upon society was such that he was known to declare that “men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants.”
Even a century after the United States was founded, the influence of Christianity remained. Abraham Lincoln, perhaps one of the most famous presidents aside from George Washington, declared in the Gettysburg Address that our government was a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Now, at first glance such a statement does not seem to be Christian at all, let alone religious. Yet there is evidence to suggest that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” can be traced back to the time of John Wycliffe and his followers, the Lollards, during the late 1300s. Wycliffe worked to translate the Bible into English and pursued reform both within the Church and the greater society. In a way, Wycliffe set the stage for the later Protestant Reformation.
So, what does all of this have to do with Memorial Day? Well, every culture will remember and honor those things that it values. When it fails to do so, it loses its connection to those things and becomes attached to something else, whatever that may be. Quite simply, whatever is valued will be remembered and whatever is not valued will be forgotten.
This principle is seen most clearly with the people of Israel in the Old Testament, who were continually commanded by God not to forget who he was and what he had done for them. Sadly, Israel repeatedly forgot God, turning away from him and turning instead to idols. The result was slavery and oppression for Israel until they repented and turned back to God. This downward spiral of forgetfulness, idolatry, and slavery, was true not only for Israel but is true for all nations today. Any nation that forgets God and turns to idols is a nation heading toward tyranny and slavery.
And just as repentance was the answer for Israel, so repentance is the only answer today for the United States. That is, we cannot simply remember those American soldiers who sacrificed themselves for our nation, however noble their sacrifices were. This is because their sacrifices could only purchase a type of earthly, temporal freedom. But earthly freedom can only survive if there first exists spiritual freedom.
This is where the sacrifice of Christ comes into play. Christ himself declared that there is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Jesus demonstrated this love by making the ultimate sacrifice in order to purchase and secure the ultimate freedom. True freedom is freedom from sin, a freedom that only God can provide (John 8:34–36). It is upon that freedom that all other freedoms flow. Without freedom from sin there can be no lasting freedom of any other kind, whether economic, political, or cultural. This is because earthly sacrifices, however honorable, cannot conquer sin and death. Christ alone conquered death, rose again on the third day, and received all authority on heaven and on earth. And it is only because of Christ that others can be truly free.
Today, the United States is at a crossroads. If it continues to forget the past, failing to remember God’s blessings and to honor him as God, then it will continue down the steep hill of idolatry into the mire of tyranny. But if it turns to Christ in repentance and faith, not only will it experience freedom from sin but it will also continue to enjoy the freedom that previous Americans fought and died for.
Therefore, on this Memorial Day, I encourage you to remember and honor those Americans who gave their lives to defend the freedom of others. But also remember Christ, who gave his life to free humanity from the ultimate enemy, sin. Any house, or nation, that is not built upon the Lord will ultimately crumble (Matthew 7:24–27 and Psalm 127:1). This is true worldwide, for “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). In the case of the United States, our nation is a nation that was built upon Christian principles but has quickly forgotten where it came from. So let us pray for repentance and faith throughout our land, that we might remain free.