Defining Our National Character

The 1942 movie, Tennessee Johnson, portrays a defining moment in the life of our country, when competing views would determine the course of our national character. President Andrew Johnson (played by Van Heflin) had succeeded President Lincoln and was working to implement Lincoln’s vision of unity and civility in the nation. His efforts, however, were opposed by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (played by Lionel Barrymore) who was consumed with revenge, believing that the South needed to be punished for the damaged that it had inflicted on the country. Whichever vision prevailed would determine the character and the destiny of the United States for generations to come.

Today we face another significant moment in our country. It is another moment that will determine in large part the course of our national character. It is another moment in which we as a nation will either give in to our passions for revenge or we will move forward with honor and civility. I am referring to the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden. I am not questioning the right of our nation to seek out and capture Bin Laden. Nor am I questioning whether or not he deserved his destiny. What concerns me is the passion for revenge that seems to be evident in the jubilation and celebrations that spontaneously erupted when the news broke. While I cannot be the judge of men’s hearts, I’m concerned that our national motivation, like that of Congressman Stevens, is founded upon our basest desire for revenge. We just wanted to get him; to give him what he deserved; to hurt him like he hurt us.

The Apostle Paul addressed the issue of revenge in Romans 12 when he wrote:

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “vengeance is mine, I will repay” says the Lord. Therefore “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

As individuals we cannot answer for the actions of our country, but we can examine our own hearts. Was our joy at the news of Bin Laden’s death the result of our lust for revenge? Do we celebrate because he finally got what he deserved? If so, we are no better than Bin Laden himself.

That is not the way of Christ.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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