The State of the Union todayFebruary 6, 2019
The President of the United States delivered a hope filled, encouraging and engaging State of the Union address on Capitol Hill last night. Two defining moments highlighted the vast worldview divide in America. One came when the President called on the nation to “work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life. And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God.” The second defining moment came when he said, “America will never be a socialist country.” The fact that an American President felt he had to deliver these two messages reveals a great deal about the underlying state of the union.
But all in all, the speech followed what I will describe as a redemptive arc.
The President chronicled the achievements of his administration and highlighted personal stories of redemption. As these people stood to the applause of the entire chamber, a unity of spirit rose, engendering hope:
- DDay survivors Private 1st Class Joseph Reilly, Staff Sgt. Irving Locker, and Sgt. Herman Zeitchik
- Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin who not only walked on the moon, but took communion there.
- Alice Johnson, sentenced to life in prison in 1997 for a nonviolent drug offense, is now free. She’s also a vibrant Christian.
- Matthew Charles, the first incarcerated individual freed by the First Step Act. He too is a Christian.
- ICE Special Agent Elvin Hernandez who came to America as a legal immigrant
- Grace Eline, 10 years old and a cancer survivor
- Tom Wibberley, whose son, Navy Seaman Craig Wibberley, was one of the 17 sailors we tragically lost
- Judah Samet, Holocaust survivor and survivor of last year’s Pittsburgh synagogue shooting – 81st birthday (and they all sang to him!)
- Joshua Kaufman and Herman Zeitchick, survivor of Dachau and one of the Americans who landed on DDay to liberate him. Seated side by side as a enacted parable of redemption through sacrifice.
The stories the President told were not the only stories of redemption in the House chamber at the State of the Union. North Carolina Senator Tillis invited pastor Andrew Brunson to be his guest. Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise walked in on his own two feet having survived and recovered from a gunshot wound that nearly took his life during practice for the Congressional baseball game two years ago. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh had to be feeling some sense of redemptive justice as he sat among his colleagues following a grueling confirmation process in which false witness was born against him. And every Christian in the room, every single one of them, has a personal story of redemption as well.
The President began with a recognition of America’s unlimited potential. He called for unity and bipartisan work on many fronts. He reached across the aisle, disarming the women who came clearly dressed to kill. The President declared the state of our union strong, but he also cast light on many deep darknesses which threaten our common life and very existence:
- Childhood cancer
- Border security and the need for comprehensive immigration reform
- Nuclear annihilation
- And the little boy sitting next to Grace Eline who is the victim of bullying because his last name is Trump.
The President said, “We can make our communities safer, our families stronger, our culture richer, our faith deeper, and our middle class bigger and more prosperous than ever before. But we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good.”
And in conclusion, the President said:
“This is our future — our fate — and our choice to make. I am asking you to choose greatness. No matter the trials we face, no matter the challenges to come, we must go forward together. We must keep America first in our hearts. We must keep freedom alive in our souls. And we must always keep faith in America’s destiny — that one nation, under God, must be the hope and the promise and the light and the glory among all the nations of the world! Thank you. God bless you, and God bless America.”
Parsing that out, there’s a disconnect between the idea that the future if fatalistic or “our fate,” and “our choice to make.” I contend that God is working out His divine, perfect, sovereign will out in the context of human history, in and through His people.
Secondly, for Christians – who also happen to be Americans – Jesus is actually first in our hearts.
Third, if the freedom we’re keeping alive in our souls, to which the President refers, is the freedom of Christ, then yes. Every other freedom is an expression and extension of that first freedom.
Finally, although its in our pledge, it is worth asking whether or not we are really one nation, under God?
There is a really real and really redemptive arc of history. Into which we live with humility as agents of grace and living sacrifices.
And as for greatness… Yes, through the glorification of God, acknowledging His greatness and doing the good that flows from living as extensions of His grace in the world.
Ultimately the state of our union depends on the state of our union with Christ – and our union with one another in and through Him.