My state is headlining the news this morning for two very different reasons. In a few hours, every living president will attend the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. A few hours later, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will attend a memorial service for those who died in last week’s fertilizer plant explosion.
There’s something transcendent about a president’s presence at times of celebration and mourning. I’ll never forget President Reagan’s message to the nation following the Challenger disaster, a speech now ranked among the top 100 in American history. President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address more than 50 years ago still calls us to “ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” When I visited Gettysburg two years ago, I found myself joining President Lincoln’s resolution that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
I think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s assertion in the midst of the Great Depression that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I remember President Reagan, standing before the Brandenburg Gate in the Berlin Wall and challenging the Soviet leader: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
However, while the president can speak for us, he cannot act for us. President Lincoln observed, “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.” President Kennedy’s words proved prophetic after his assassination: “In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.”
And ultimately, that success rests in the hands of Almighty God. The psalmist noted, “No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love” (Psalm 33:16-18).
As we join the people of West, Texas in mourning their dead and wounded, let us place our hope in God’s unfailing love. Let us pray for parents who grieve for their children and children who grieve for their parents. Let us join them in turning to God for strength in suffering, not because we should but because we must.
And let us agree with John Henry Newman that “He has not made us for naught; he has brought us thus far, in order to bring us on to the end. . . . What is it to us how our future path lies, if it be but his path? What is it to us whither it leads us, so that in the end it leads to him?”