A Memorial Day reflection: Why government exists

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The debt ceiling agreement and the reason government exists: A Memorial Day reflection

May 29, 2023 -

A lone American flag stands in front of multiple gravestones on Memorial Day. © By Bill Chizek/stock.adobe.com

A lone American flag stands in front of multiple gravestones on Memorial Day. © By Bill Chizek/stock.adobe.com

A lone American flag stands in front of multiple gravestones on Memorial Day. © By Bill Chizek/stock.adobe.com

President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) announced last night that they have reached an agreement to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. Congressional votes on the deal could come as early as Wednesday in the House, but critics on both sides are already lambasting it. In the midst of our bitterly divisive partisan environment, it’s worth remembering on this Memorial Day the true purpose of government and the heroes who paid the ultimate price to fulfill that purpose.

“We don’t know them all, but we owe them all”

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote: “It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.

“A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.”

As I write this Daily Article today in security and freedom, I am grateful for the 1.1 million men and women who died “to promote and to protect” such “ordinary happiness.” Each of them illustrates the wisdom of Thucydides: “The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom, courage.”

It has been well stated: “We don’t know them all, but we owe them all.”

On days like today, I often tell the story of meeting a veteran of the war in Iraq whose face and hands had been disfigured by an IED. When I thanked him for his great sacrifice, he looked me in the eye and said, “The best way you can thank us for our service is to make America a nation worth dying for.”

How can you and I do that today?

“The breaches of the city of David were many”

In the Old Testament era, cities were largely responsible for their own defenses. When enemies advanced, they needed to protect their water sources and fortify their walls.

For example, Isaiah 22 depicts Jerusalem in a time of war when “the breaches of the city of David were many” (v. 9a). Consequently, “You collected the waters of the lower pool, and you counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool” (vv. 9b–11a).

This was a conventional strategy in wartime. However, “you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago” (v. 11b). It was God who made Jerusalem strong under King David and protected the nation against Assyrian aggression when King Hezekiah turned to him for help (2 Kings 19:14–36).

Now, however, the nation had rejected God’s call to repentance: “In that day the Lord Gᴏᴅ of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth; and behold, joy and gladness, killing oxen and slaughtering sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (Isaiah 22:12–13). The prophet responded to such blatant disobedience: “The Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts has revealed himself in my ears: ‘Surely this iniquity will not be atoned for you until you die,’ says the Lord Gᴏᴅ of hosts” (v. 14).

And so it was that Jerusalem, which withstood the mighty Assyrian army with God’s help, fell to the Babylonians. Their temple was destroyed and their people enslaved (2 Kings 25:1–21).

Three biblical responses

Every word of Scripture is relevant beyond its immediate setting (Romans 15:4). What can we learn from ancient Jerusalem on this Memorial Day?

One: A nation must never presume that past victories or present prosperity insulate us from future judgment.

Scripture warns: “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

Two: The best way to honor those who served our country sacrificially is to emulate their example in serving our Lord and our nation.

Samuel’s word to his people is God’s word to us: “Fear the Lᴏʀᴅ and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you” (1 Samuel 12:24).

Three: Our best service to our nation is to pray and work for spiritual and moral awakening.

First, we pray: “Restore our fortunes, O Lᴏʀᴅ, like streams in the Negeb!” (Psalm 126:4). Then we work: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy. He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (vv. 5–6).

How will you sow the seeds of spiritual renewal through your intercession and witness?

“He loves his country best”

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, that day when the collective church remembers with gratitude the empowering work of God’s Spirit that birthed the mightiest spiritual movement in human history (Acts 2).

We need the miracle of Pentecost every day. When you and I are “filled” and empowered by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), God makes us like his Son (Romans 8:29) and uses us as salt and light to transform our culture (Matthew 5:13–16). Such a movement is America’s greatest need and her greatest hope.

Robert G. Ingersoll noted, “He loves his country best who strives to make it best.”

How much do you love your country today?

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