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November 18, 2008 / beidson

Neither High Enough Nor Far Enough: Why Patriotism and the Spirit of Progress Fall Short

Two weeks ago tonight, the nation and the world watched as a young black man took center stage to speakflag1 to America as its new President-Elect.  Senator Barack Obama donned a new title, and a new crown, as it were, as he thanked his supporters and made many promises concerning the days to come.  As I watched the event unfold, it was amazing to see how the crowd was fixed on this one man, and how his words seemed to give everyone a reason to nod their heads and applaud, and even shed tears.  Yet every time Mr. Obama began to speak about the hope and the change that were ours, I realized that I was somehow disconnected from many people at Grant Park, and around America and the world that night.  In fact, I believe many people probably realized this same disconnect, even perhaps those who cast their votes for Obama.

The reason for this disconnect is because President-Elect Obama’s words fell short.  They were lofty, but they did not go high enough.  They were far-reaching, but they did not reach far enough.  They were hopeful, but they did not offer enough hope.  And they were promising, but the promises weren’t sure enough.  And why did they fall so short?  Because patriotism and human progress fall short of satisfying our hearts and minds.  As good as these things might be, they are not good enough.  Though necessary, they are not sufficient.  And this is because all messages fall short of the gospel message.

I kept waiting for Obama’s message to get better, and I had to continually remind myself that his message couldn’t get any better–it was doomed to fall short.  And this is the case for any President.  No matter how elloquent or excellent his or her words, any message they have will fall short.  That is the nature of patriotism and progress.  They do not have all that it takes to truly capture the human heart or to bring people together in real unity.  And we should not expect them to either.  They are not meant to do so.

Though I watched with great anticipation, President-Elect Obama’s message never delivered the punch that I had hoped it would.  But that’s because the magnitude of the moment shriveled quickly as he opened his mouth and spoke words that had no authority or power to truly change anyone.  Neither he nor any other person can do such a thing, which stands as a judgment against the smallness of human-centered progress and hope.  It also bears witness to the fact that all speech finds its meaning ultimately in the gospel.  Any ounce of hope we may give to others with mere words testifies to the fact that there is an even greater message  to speak and to hear.  Patriotism and the spirit of progress are lifeless if they are not grafted into the context of the gospel, the life-giving message itself.

As I looked at the faces of the multitudes gathered together that evening, I wondered to myself, “Does that lady know that Obama’s message falls short?  Does that man understand that there is a better ruler with a perfect tongue and a more sure word?  Does that child know that this president will not be faultless, that the hope of nations is not standing on the platform in front of her, but enthroned in heaven, soon to return in fearful power?”  I was reminded that ultimately we cannot get too excited about political plattitudes and generalities, no matter how noble they may be.  These are not capable of uniting people, of brining nations together, of ending the problems of the world.  Though they may contain some elements of transcendency, they are not able themselves to transcend the very conditions they seek to correct.  Patriotism and human progress are fallen, and in consequence, fall short.  But this is the point.  Sinners must turn their eyes from any leader, or any hope divorced from our Creator, and instead look to the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is able to save to the uttermost.

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