“Under God” Is Safe, But Does it Matter?

The words “In God We Trust” and “Under God” are still safe and will be allowed to be printed on our currency and recited in our schools.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, one of the most liberal of all Federal Courts, ruled last Thursday that the slogans do not constitute a governmental establishment of religion.  This came from a lawsuit filed by Michael Newdow.

Hey, this is good news, no doubt about it.  We of course want to see the recognition of God’s providence and care over our nation continue to be printed and recited in our national currency and pledge.  For those of us who take seriously the book of Romans, we pray for our country and for our leaders to recognize that the God of the Bible builds up and tears down nations, potentially permitting them to self-destruct in their own sinful desire (Romans 1, 13).  Anytime a ruling or other happenstance supports the continued observance of God in our culture and country, I am pleased.

But let’s be realistic about what this ruling is all about, and to some degree, be perplexed.  The Ninth Circuit did not suddenly become convicted by Romans chapter 1 and 13 as mentioned above.  That is not their duty, and frankly, none of us want them citing biblical passages in the writing of their summation.  I don’t want judges citing the Koran, the Book of Mormon, or the eightfold path of enlightenment either.  As Christians, our prayers should be for men and women to sit in our courts who fear God, believe the Bible, and are moved by their faith, yet judge based on the constitution and rightly interpreting the law.  Thus, the reason for this ruling is simply because the Court decided that those simple slogans carry no theological significance as to make them a phrase of establishment.  The ruling was summarized like this:

It is not easy to discern any religious significance attendant the
payment of a bill with coin or currency on which has been imprinted ‘In
God We Trust’ or the study of a government publication or document
bearing that slogan. . . .   While ‘ceremonial’ and ‘patriotic’ may not
be particularly apt words to describe the category of the national
motto, it is excluded from First Amendment significance because the
motto has no theological or ritualistic impact. As stated by the
Congressional report, it has ‘spiritual and psychological value’ and
‘inspirational quality
.’

According to the court’s opinion, the national motto and similar slogans carry with them a “pep rally” concept that can inspire us to be a better nation, but does not carry any kind of theological impact.  The word “God” is just another use of language to encourage the heart and spiritualize the mind.  And if possible, motivate us to be a better people and a better nation.  I find it incredibly interesting that the court is willing to let that interpretation win the day when by their own admission the slogan is pointless (at least to them), so why not error on the side of caution and remove any mention of a deity from all national pledges, currency, etc?

More concerning to me than if the words “Under God” remain on our money is if the summation of the court’s ruling hits home in ways that should cause our knees to buckle.  Not as it relates to our country, but rather as it relates to our churches.  When our churches hear the word “God” I wonder what comes to mind.  After all, that is most important thing about us.  A.W. Tozer says it best:  “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. . . .for this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself.”  The court’s understanding of how “Under God” is understood by our country to be more of a motivational, patriotic emblem carries a striking and painful parallel to how we in the Church are progressing in our view of God.  We go church to “get something”, to “feel better”, and to “increase our worth, wealth, and significance.”  But can many who shout in the streets about the removal of the Ten Commandments from the schools actually recite them?  Can the many who speak in anger against those who would dare act to remove “Under God” from our currency actually say they are under God?  Are our concerns about these kind of issues more political than spiritual?  Listen to what Dr. Russell Moore has to say about this issue:

Why are we so desperate to see “God” affirmed by the outside culture,
even when the “God” they’re talking about more closely resembles Zeus
(or, as in this case, Lucifer) than Yahweh? When we reach this point of
perpetual outrage, are we closer to identity politics than gospel
proclamation? I’m afraid so.

  What if, instead, we loved the world the way God does (Jn. 3:16),
and not the way the satanic powers ask us to? What if we loved the
world through verbal proclamation and self-sacrificial giving, not by
seeking product placement for the Trinity? Rather than expecting our
politicians and musicians and actors to placate us with platitudes to
some generic god, let’s work with them where we can on “doing good to
all people” (Gal. 6:10).
Let’s proclaim the God of a crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus. And
let’s teach our kids and our converts the actual content of the
biblical revelation.

  

I am thrilled to hear of the court’s decision.  I am more thrilled when I see the people of God more concerned with being crucified with Christ than with a slogan on a dollar bill.                           

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