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The Ultimate History Lesson

March 27th, 2009

Focus Text: Proverbs 13: (NLT)

 9 The life of the godly is full of light and joy,
      but the light of the wicked will be snuffed out.


Stop Here and Reflect Before Reading Ahead

In 1831, two young Frenchmen, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont, asked and received permission to travel to the United States to learn more about our prison system.  These two young men were disillusioned with the government in France and were interested in learning more about democracy and the political and social systems in the burgeoning republic of the United States.  They spent nine months traveling throughout the country trying to figure out what made the nation tick . . . what was at the heart of the people. 

The traveled as far west as Michigan, where guides led them through the then virgin wilderness.  They also headed south to New Orleans, risking their lives to travel during the worst winter in years.  But the majority of their time was spent in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.  While in these centers of American thought, they arranged meetings with some of the most prominent and influential thinkers of the early Nineteenth Century.  Tocqueville interviewed presidents, lawyers, bankers, and settlers . . . and even met with the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.  He published his thoughts in a work that is still famous today in American history called Democracy in America.

The observations of someone who exists outside of a family, business, organization, or relationship can often produce invaluable insights about the true nature of who we are without any internal biases or skewed perceptions that result from being too close to the situation.  In other words, a stranger’s initial impression is often the most accurate because it is raw and objective . . . based solely off of the pure facts of where we are at the present moment.  Tocqueville’s literary snapshot of the United States revealed where the early strength of our nation lay . . . and it may surprise you.

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “the religious atmosphere of the country was the first thing that struck me on arrival in the United States . . . I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there.  Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.  America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

Wow!  In 1831 Jacksonian America, a great religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening was alive and well.  The name of the movement isn’t what was important; rather the desire of the American people to seek God and to do what is right laid the foundation for a solid democracy that has outlasted any other governmental system in all of world history (without a major revolution or change in constitution.)  In Tocqueville’s opinion, America’s strength was found in her goodness.

This passage mirrors this truth by saying, “The life of the godly is full of light and joy, but the light of the wicked will be snuffed out.”  To be one who follows God, we needn’t only be concerned with eternity . . . light and joy can fill our lives right now!  Such is what Tocqueville observed one-hundred and sixty years ago and such is true today.  The degree to which we seek to please God with our attitudes, lifestyles, and relationships is directly proportional to the level of joy and light that illuminates the landscape of our lives every day.

Tocqueville’s prediction that the loss of this desire for godliness would result in the loss of our greatness is truly sobering.  We can’t speak for every person in this nation.  We can’t speak for the politicians who run our government (although we can vote).  We can’t speak for the media or even for the members of our own family.  We can only speak for ourselves and work to keep our light from being “snuffed out.”  The words are still true and are applicable to our nation or to our own lives: our goodness will result in our greatness or the lack thereof.

History will come and go, but this truth will remain.



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