Put your hand down into your pockets, your purse, or your wallet. Take out a penny, a nickel, a dime. And there, engraved on the coins we use every day, is an extraordinary set of words.
Growing out of our collective American experience, written by the very people who regulate our businesses, negotiate our international treaties, orchestrate our national security, and oversee our great experiment in self-government are four fundamental words: “In God We Trust.” In God we trust.
Those words are always important, but they are decisive in times of national fear and uncertainty. They remind us—as individuals, as communities, and as a nation—that our hope runs deeper than political figures, political parties, or political agendas. They remind us that, first and foremost, our hope lies in God and in the ways of God.
Now I know how that sounds. In a religious environment marked by cheap words and tired, dusty slogans, those words can sound like religious escapism.
But what if they are not?
What if they are an important reminder that our lives, both personal and national, will always be filled with political quakes and financial tremors? What if they are a reminder that storms will always come with their lightning, their gale-force winds, and their terror—but that there is a power that is deeper than the storms?
When the Children of Israel were in the wilderness, a long way from anything that looked familiar, dependable, or reassuring, they experienced a crisis of faith. Moses, their leader—the one who in their minds had brought them out of Egypt, led them through the Red Sea, and shepherded them through the desert wastelands—had disappeared amidst the craggy slopes of Mount Sinai. And the longer he was away, the deeper their fear and anxiety.
Moses had told them that their only sure basis for strength and confidence was God, but what they were feeling instead was the fear of dark nights, scorching winds, and unforgiving heat.
They felt isolated, alone, and vulnerable.
And so they turned to Aaron, Moses’ brother, and he built them a golden calf.
As a nation, rather than drawing strength from an invisible God, they fashioned a god they could touch and see.
That is always the great danger for us, isn’t it—that we as individuals and as a nation will trust in the brief, the fleeting, the temporary, and the short-lived rather than that which is deep and lasting and eternal? Floundering amidst a sea of uncertainty, the temptation is always to cling frantically to anything that looks like a life preserver. It takes faith and courage to find a deeper security, one that can come from God alone. That is why the church teaches us to sing:
“O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home!
Under the shadow of thy throne,
still may we dwell secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.’
As modern translations of Psalm 146:3 remind us, we must be careful about putting our trust in the powerful and influential. The Obamas, the Boehners, the Bachmanns and the Palins will always be limited in what they can do. Fundamentally, our deepest hope will come neither from the latest recommendations of the President’s economic advisors or the ideological certainty of the Tea Party. Ultimately, our deepest security comes not from the stock market, Chinook helicopters, or Standard & Poors, but from the God who created us, the God in whom there is no shadow of turning.
During weeks when the stock market drops 700 points, when military helicopters are shot from the sky, when political parties seem incapable of listening to one another, we are invited to hear again the wisdom engraved on things as common as the coins in our pockets: In God We Trust.
Gary Robbins is the pastor of Greene Memorial UMC in downtown Roanoke. He can be reached at [email protected]. In observance of the 10th anniversary of 9-11, Greene Memorial will be hosting a special service on Sunday, Sept. 11 at 10:00 in the church sanctuary.