When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven. I said, ‘O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments; let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for your servants the people of Israel, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned. We have offended you deeply.
When was the last time you heard a local, state, or national leader say, “We have sinned”? Or, when was the last time that any of us prayed like Nehemiah in today’s Scripture text:
“We have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned. We have offended you deeply”?
We wrangle about the many problems facing our country and how they might be fixed. There are problems with the economy, education, health care, the legal system, the military, foreign relations…you name it! But when might we dare to say with Pogo, the old comic strip character, “We have met the enemy and he is us”?
In times of national trouble Americans have often come together, joined hands and sung, “God Bless America’. But how ready are we to come together, join our hands and pray, “God forgive us. We have offended you deeply”?
I try to pray for my country every day and in my ministry I have encouraged others to pray for America. But I now am feeling the need to refocus those prayers. I have omitted the critical words: “We have sinned”. For America to ever get on course we will first have to acknowledge where we got off course. Yes God, please do bless America! But God, we have sinned.
These thoughts have stirred in me since our Internet radio conversation in the Living Room of April 25. In preparing for that day’s conversation I learned that President Eisenhower was the last American president to ever mention the word “sin”. His mention of “sin” happened in his proclamation for the National Day of Prayer in 1953, quoting from Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation in 1863:
It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon.
* **After this proclamation President Eisenhower never mentioned sin again. Talk of sin did not seem compatible with a Commander-in-Chief’s vision of a proud and confident nation. No American president since, Democrat or Republican, has mentioned sin or called the nation to repentance. We haven’t stopped sinning in the last 60 years we just don’t talk about it. Nor do we dare to even label anything as “wrong’.
In stark contrast read the writings of many of our nation’s founders and see how they spoke boldly about our national sins. They believed in a God who judges the nations of the world, and pleaded for people to humble themselves and confess sin. There were also people like Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Peter Cartwright, who brought change to the heart of America as they preached about sin and the need to turn from it. Often our goal today is feeling good about our selves while continuing in our sin.
In today’s text the godly Nehemiah lives in far off Persia serving in the King of Persia’s court. When Nehemiah receives the tragic news of his people’s failed attempts to rebuild Jerusalem, he “sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven”. Nehemiah was humiliated by his own sins and the sins of his people and poured out his broken heart to God: “We have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned. We have offended you deeply.”
I think it’s all right that we continue to sing and to say, “God bless America”. But for God to really bless us we are going to need to say: “We have sinned against you…We have offended you deeply”.
What do you think? I would be interested in hearing from you.
Grace and peace,
* For more information on presidential addresses and the omission of “sin”, see Dr. Karl Menninger, the famed founder of the Menninger Clinic, in his book, “Whatever Became of Sin”.
** To hear the April 25 Living Room conversation on “The S-word”, visit our Living Room radio show archive.
photo by Gage Skidmore