When Integrity Made a Nation Great
“Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
-Francis Scott Key
“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.“
-Hebrews 11:13 (NASB)
One day recently, I awakened to discover that my father’s America had died.
Thankfully, he had already left this earth behind and was not here to mourn her passing. Thankfully, he left when she was alive, if not well. Thankfully, he would never know that the color of his skin marked him as inherently evil and a man of privilege in the brave new world that creates reality out of perception. In his America, it was possible for a man to overcome the circumstances of his birth.
As my dad grew up in the Midwest in the 1930’s, he had been repeatedly and systematically abused by a sadistic father. But instead of using the violence perpetrated against him as an excuse to victimize others, Dad understood the injustice of hurting the innocent because he had suffered. He knew that no matter how he had been treated, it was never right to be cruel to others. His own father’s failures challenged him to grow up to be a better man, a kinder human being, the antithesis of his dad. He taught us to treat all men as we would want to be treated.
My dad came to manhood in the shadow of a name smothered in the shame of his father. He always believed that it was hard work and the grace of God that delivered him from a childhood of poverty and abuse. He worked hard to give us a name we would be proud to wear. In my father’s America, hard work and the grace of God were honored concepts, and it was integrity that made a nation great.
In my father’s America, it was possible to transcend injustice. Reaching heavenward was encouraged and godly values were treasured. Age and experience were respected, and the flag was never allowed to touch the ground.
My father proudly served in the United States Navy. When he married and had a family, he worked hard to give us the life he never had. He loved this country and all it stood for. If he were here today to witness the burning of our history, our culture, and our future as a nation, he would weep.
Then he would remind me that this place is not our home, that we are just passing through to a greater land. He would tell me that this life is the preparation for the one to come. He would assure me that this, too, shall pass.
Whether or not America survives her current challenges is anyone’s guess. I am grateful to have lived in such a wonderful country.
But today I grieve for this nation, and I am glad that I am just passing through.
“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”
-Hebrews 11:16 (NASB)
When a Father Grieves
And Jesus said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.”
Father’s Day is set aside each year to celebrate the dads in our lives. But for many, this is a hard day. Some men are not able to have children. For others, this is the day they grieve the loss of a child. And for many, this day will pass with the knowledge that they will not hear from their son. In this context, the story of the prodigal son is an ancient one that still pulls on the souls of fathers everywhere.
The prodigal was a young man who became restless and decided to leave home for the big city. He took his inheritance, spent it all on loose living, and was reduced to feeding pigs in order to survive. As he starved in the pig pen, he came to his senses and realized that his father’s servants ate better than he did. He swallowed his pride and returned home.
In the Bible account, the first thing the prodigal son saw when he arrived home in humiliation was the sight of his father running down the road to meet him with joy. There they embraced, both the fears of the son and the heartache of the father dispelled in a moment of sweet reconciliation.
The son suffered much for his choice to walk away and squander his inheritance, and it was his desperation that drove him home. It must have been a long walk home that day. But the things that he never saw would have helped him to understand what it meant to be loved without condition. Had he known, he would have run all the way home.
He never saw the agony of an old man broken. He never saw the lines in his father’s face from the many nights without sleep. He never saw how his father struggled to hold on to his integrity when the questions drowned him in the night.
He never saw the tears or the drooped shoulders from carrying a sorrow too great. He never saw the way his father fought to hold up his head around others, as if to dare the shame to approach him.
If he could have seen his father’s heart, he would have known how many times he was remembered, prayed over, grieved, forgiven, remembered, prayed over, and grieved again. If he could have only seen the pain he inflicted by disrespecting and discarding his family’s love so easily, he would have never left.
If only he could have seen how much precious time he had lost, how much happiness he had squandered on sin.
A godly father’s heart is larger than our failures. If we realized how much the story of the prodigal reveals of our Father in heaven, who grieves silently and intensely, how much more we would understand God. It is this Father who weeps for us, who watches the road for our return, and who runs to meet us with great joy when we make that long walk home.
“’This son of mine was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”