Two hundred and thirty-six years ago, our nation declared her independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Although there has been some dispute on the actual date of separation, July 4th has been the date that has been celebrated from the outset.
From that outset the American ‘Ideal’ has been to preserve a nation of distinct states whose citizens are free from the tyranny of government control. In fact, the American Dream was to create a nation whose government protected the rights of its citizens, rights endowed by the Creator, rights stated as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
What is fascinating and informative about that famous statement by our founding fathers is the clear acknowledgment of the Creator; not simply the clear acknowledgment, but the explicit assertion that it is the Creator God who has endowed, or graciously granted, these rights.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are all, admittedly, relatively abstract ideas, concepts that can be subject to interpretation. However, when we consider that those who wrote the statement attributed the endowment as coming from the Creator, it seems logical, even essential, to defer to this same Creator for the correct understanding of each stated idea.
Life belongs to God. The Creator, who says, “It is I who put to death and give life” is the Giver of life. He has given man, as His image bearer, dominion over the created world. Even as man exercises his divine commission to multiply, it is still God who opens the womb, so that children are a gift of the Lord (Ps. 127). Government derives from the Giver of life, therefore, the authority to protect the lives of her citizens (Romans 13:1-7), from murder and evil against them.
One important application of government’s stewardship of life is with respect to the unborn. It is essential that our government allow God to define the starting point of a life falling under its vested protection. The Bible teaches that God fashions the unborn life in the mother’s womb upon conception(Psalm 139:13), yet the fashioning of each human life is according to a master plan that predates all time (Ephesians 2:10; Jeremiah 1:5).
Liberty as the founders referenced, wasn’t the freedom of individual rights as our society fancies it today, a selfish freedom in which ever man does what is right in his own eyes. The founders seemed most concerned about each individual citizen’s freedom from the tyranny of a ruling class that enslaved, or harnessed the necks of the many to plow for the benefit of the few holding the reigns of power.
It has often been noted as an oddity that the New Testament writers did not focus their efforts on the abolition of the institution of slavery. It is certainly because they recognized that slavery was an outworking of man’s own slavery to sin, and the sinful desire to selfishly use others for one’s own personal benefit and enrichment. What the New Testament community of believers did focus on, therefore, was liberating sinners from the slavery to sin.
The liberty that the Creator is most concerned with is liberty from the bondage of sin and condemnation. And God calls His people to live in such a tranquil way that would foster a winsome attraction to the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Creator, who took on flesh, came that men might know the truth and truly be set free. Liberty from the cruel master of sin, freedom from the grievous weight of spiritual death and death eternal, is the liberty that God has offered to all, and desires that His established human governments would protect access unto.
Of these three proposed endowments in our nation’s declaration, pursuit of happiness seems most subject to interpretation. Without the Creator’s voice, sinful preferences will war for authenticity in being determinative. For instance, today happiness is … marrying someone of the same gender, … dishonoring human covenants and contracts for personal fulfillment or gain regardless of the cost to others, … the few pursuing material goals and wealth at the expense of the many, having basic needs and services supplied by virtue of citizenship rather than effort.
Here the voice of the Creator speaks clearly that the path marking the pursuit of happiness is one paved by selflessness. What nation, foolishly intent on protecting the ability of the individual to pursue selfish interests that are possibly, even often, set in opposition to the personal benefit of others and the whole, could ever hope to remain a unified whole?
God has blessed us with the best ideals that a nation could be founded upon in a fallen world. Yet it is incumbent upon our nation to allow God’s wisdom to also supply the best answers for determining the interpretation of those ideals. Our country's declaration of independence must represent a dependence upon God.