I am not sure if an imagination is supposed to come into play when reading the Bible. After all, have you ever been in the middle of communicating a thought when the person to whom you were speaking began to inject his or her views and conclusions into your tale? Invariably, when the listener becomes the speaker, the story can have a dramatically different outcome. I absolutely don’t want to do that to God’s narrative.
The scriptures are inspired, inerrant, and infallible. They serve as the rule of faith and practice. They were fully authoritative as they were given by God through verbal inspiration and have been kept pure by His providential care. I believe that. I hold to that basic tenet of Christianity.
Yet, on the heels of that catechism’s declaration, I must confess that I cannot shut down my imagination when reading Bible stories. Suffice it to say that I endeavor only to supply fictional background to the adventures of the biblical characters rather than to change the heart of intent of our Father’s immutable truth. (How’s that for a disclaimer to what I am about to do?)
Have you ever tried to visualize the tale of Jonah and the fish? What a whale of a story we could build! Securing his freedom from the will of God (or so he thought), Jonah set sail on a ship heading in direct opposition from where God told him to go. A storm ensued and Jonah ended up overboard. Surely somewhere in those less than ideal circumstances our traveler must have begun to question if his choice to go AWOL on God had been correct.
Perhaps Jonah’s arms were flailing wildly as he searched for a piece of wood or some debris to help him stay afloat. Under a dark sky and in the black sea, the pounding rain and rough waves would have assailed him. Surely, he squinted his eyes as he attempted to survey his plight and find his salvation. What happened next? Did something brush his leg? With a pounding heart, did he frantically pivot back and forth to discover what creature of the sea might be lurking? Did Stephen Spielberg’s soundtrack from Jaws begin to echo in his ears?
There it was – his passage back to the will of God. Oh, I doubt if Jonah actually thought that to himself when the huge fish finally came into focus. I doubt if worship and faith were his initial responses. He probably wasn’t even delighting in the fact that some day he would have the biggest fish story of them all!
In one gulp, the sea monster swallowed up the preacher. The dimly lighted sky disappeared and all that remained was utter darkness. The smell of sea air changed to the pungent odor of dead fish. The sound of the storm was muffled while his screams of terror amplified in the echo chamber of the creature’s belly.
Three days of hopelessness. Three days of prayer. Three days of self-reflection. Three days of repentance. And all the while, the fish was traveling in the direction that God had told Jonah to go. Amazingly enough, just about the time that Jonah got his heart straight, the fish arrived at Jonah’s port of call. The fish must have decided that this one was too small to keep because he threw him back into the water.
Emerging onto the shores of Nineveh, gastric-juice-bleached skin and all, Jonah preached with such personal conviction that the town was converted. He must have told one fish story that everyone believed.
Throughout this past weekend, the citizens of this great United States of America have celebrated the Fourth of July. The birthday of our nation commenced with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776; and again this year, that history-making and world-shaping event has been commemorated. Parades and picnics have been enjoyed by people of every age. Fireworks have filled the sky; and flags have been unfurled on city streets, over municipal buildings, and on polls in front of the average man’s house.
I love the sight and sound of the fireworks. I like to be close enough to the display that the boom of the explosion reverberates in my chest. Bottle rockets glaring, bombs bursting in the air, and sparkling lights gallantly streaming through the night sky. What a spectacular sight! But the sight that unfailingly stirs my heart and captures my awe is that of the flag waving in this land of the free and the brave.
Our national anthem was written in honor of the flag. The third and less-familiar verse to the “Star Spangled Banner” contains the following lyrics:
"O thus be it ever when free men shall stand,
Between their loved home and the war's desolation;
Blest with victory and peace, may the Heaven-rescued land,
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just;
And this be our motto IN GOD IS OUR TRUST!
And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
Over the land of the free and the home of the brave!"
This fourth verse of the National Anthem inspired Congress on March 3, 1865, to place our nation’s motto on our nation's coins. History records that the last act of Congress, which President Lincoln signed, was one requiring that the motto IN GOD WE TRUST should be inscribed upon all our national coins.
On October 30, 1949, President Truman stated, "When the U.S. was established...the motto was IN GOD WE TRUST. That is still our motto and we still place our firm trust in God." Those same sentiments were reiterated by President John F. Kennedy on February 9, 1961, when he declared, "The guiding principle of this nation has been, is now, and ever shall be IN GOD WE TRUST." On March 19, 1981, President Ronald Reagan resounded the same sentiments when he said, "Our Nation's motto...reflects a basic recognition that there is a divine authority in the universe to which this nation owes homage."
From our flag, to our currency, to our celebration of the 4th, we are a nation that has historically acknowledged our faith and trust in God. John Adams, upon the vote of the Continental Congress to accept the resolution for independence, wrote to his wife the following words about our Independence Day:
“It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to
God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever…”
Our Fourth of July celebrations have fulfilled the pageantry and party described by Adams. However, to fully commemorate, we must remain devoted to God. In keeping with the words of our nation’s greatest leaders, IN GOD WE TRUST must continue to be the motto of our nation’s independence.
“Who will bring the hot dogs?” That question often sets the tone of our annual Fourth of July celebration. As Americans, we arrange our holiday to include friends, food, and fun for the day. The heat of summer usually affords us the opportunity to incorporate water activities and out door frivolities no matter what area of the country we live in. Most of the nation plays. Too much to eat, too much sun, or too much energy expended in recreation does not daunt our commitment to celebrate the day. When the sun goes down, the fireworks go up.
American tradition links the Fourth with fireworks. Some of us choose to purchase do-it-yourself, stay-at-home explosive devises like firecrackers or sparklers. Others of us select a favorite spot from which to observe as the technically trained set off aerial exhibitions. If we like sound with our sight, we fight the crowds for a front row seat at some local display. If we want a soft chair and air-conditioning, a televised broadcast provides an alternative. Whatever genre, American citizens conclude the day of leisure by lighting our skies with a declaration of independence.
The first declaration was far from amusement and fireworks. Struggling to define a nation’s fundamental philosophy required more thought than “who will bring the hot dogs?” The heat of political pressure from England, the stress from the threat of war, and the tension of economic consequences were certainly not fun and frivolities. Life and death hung in the balance for a nation and for the framers of our constitution.
Two signers of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were at one time political enemies who later became close friends. Both men served in the Continental Congress. One was elected the second President and the other elected the third. These forefathers of American freedom undoubtedly annually commemorated the day in which they and others signed the document that exploded the United States into independence.
In an act of heavenly providence, both men died on the Fourth of July. On our nation’s holiday in 1826, exactly 50 years from the signing of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson expired. Addressing the congress, President John Quincy Adams stated: "Since your last meeting at this place, the fiftieth anniversary of the day when our independence was declared...two of the principal actors in that solemn scene - the hand that penned the ever-memorable Declaration and the voice that sustained it in debate - were by one summons, at the distance of 700 miles from each other, called before the Judge of All to account for their deeds done upon earth."
These two men were guiding lights over the nation’s path to freedom. On July 4, 1826, they concluded their lives by lighting the heavenly sky with another kind of declaration of independence. I am sure that the fireworks we display on the Fourth cannot compare with the heavenly spectacular they experience each day. I am likewise sure that they would be pleased to know that Americans still commemorate the price that was paid and the importance of the day as we light up our fireworks on The Fourth of July.