(originally published in Decision Magazine, 1974)
This past year the American people have suffered an emotional trauma that has had few parallels in our history.
Our newspapers and our television screens are bringing news of 101 dangerous problems that are rocking the world. Each day seems to add to our already impressive number of crises here at home – an accelerating crime rate, mass murders, soaring drug use, rampant inflation, pollution, the breakdown of families, a jittery stock market – and the list could go on and on.
And the question that many Americans are asking is: What went wrong? What is wrong?
It is almost a paradox that our nation, with all the economic affluence for enjoying life, virtually leads the world in crime, narcotics abuse and immorality. As Americans we have at our beck and call all the necessary armaments for national security, but we are still insecure. We have all the material possessions deemed essential for happiness, but we are unhappy. Millions of Americans are happy on the outside, but deep down inside they know something is missing: they are lonely, empty and bored.
No one can deny that our nation faces one of the gravest crises of its history. In virtually all of the past crises, with the exception of the Civil War, our nation was confronted by external threats. But today we face the greatest of all threats – disintegration from within.
Now, some people have accused me of being a moral alarmist who leans on the panic button too often. But I have traveled over the world too much, talked privately to too many of our national leaders, and sifted the fears and concerns of the average American too many times to be overly optimistic about the state of our nation.
I don’t see anything wrong with being a realist: seeing things as they are, and telling is as it is. The worst course of action, it seems to me, would be to bury our heads in the sand and shrink or hide from the dangers that threaten to engulf us.
What are some of the dangers? We face an economic crisis. We enjoy the highest standard of living of any nation in the history of the world. We are the best-fed, the best-clothed and the best-housed people in history. But we are also beginning to pay the price for our luxurious living and our deficit spending. Inflation has hit every American.
But the supreme crisis that confronts us is neither political nor economic. It is moral and spiritual. And if we fail to solve this moral and spiritual crisis we may be doomed like the great nations of the past.
Look at the skyrocketing crime rate. Look at the rapidly increasing moral permissiveness that pervades almost everything we read or see. Look at the pervasive corruption to be found in almost every segment of our national life. Not just in Washington – it’s all over the country. It’s in every city. Morally and spiritually, we have to confess, our country is on the verge of breaking down.
The spiritual problem is also an individual problem – it is one that rests with you and me. There can be and will be no lasting social reform until the individuals who make up society are reformed. The problems of society are caused by men and women in our society. We are a nation of individuals, and we are perilously close to reproducing the life-style of the people in the book of Judges in the Old Testament, of whom it is said: “Every man did what was right is his own eyes.” Judges 17:6
Take a hard look at America and all of its problems. It is not unlike a mirror in which each American sees himself. I am often asked, “Is America at the crossroads?” My answer is an emphatic “no!” The idea of the crossroads implies that we are at a place where we can choose one or another road to follow. I think we already made a choice at a crossroads some time ago. I doubt that anyone can specify the exact time when this choice was made – but in my judgment it has been made. And we are well along the dead-end road we deliberately chose to follow. The choice was made when America as a nation abandoned obedience to God and to his moral law. We chose the road of secularism, hedonism, materialism, and moral permissiveness.
It is true, of course, that millions of individual Americans have not abandoned obedience to God or to his moral law. Millions in America live for the Lord. It is also true that millions of people, especially young people, are responding to the proclamation of the Gospel. But these encouraging facts should not lead us to self-delusion that all is working out; that the coming judgment will be averted; that our nation as a nation is following God, because it is not.
Our nation was founded on firm moral principles; our forefathers wanted this to be a nation in which God was honored. But what happened? We have abandoned God, and we face the imminent danger of being abandoned by him.
What is the answer to the crisis that faces us at this hour? The greatest mistake that we could make would be to fail to diagnose the illness, or to offer an effective remedy.
The name of the disease is sin. Our nation must seek again the way of God and walk in the law of God. This is the only answer ultimately to America’s problems.
I am not suggesting that more interest in religion is going to save us. A substantial, though declining, number of our people go to church each week. For all too many of us, however, religion is merely a formality that has little effect on the way we live and act during the week. Only a vital, personal faith in the living God of the Bible can get to the root of our problems.
The great question is, “How can we rediscover the faith that was once a dynamic, revolutionary, life-changing force in American society?”
The answer is to be found only in Jesus Christ, the greatest revolutionary of all time. He was not concerned primarily with political or economic revolutions. Instead, he came to enter the lives of men and women and revolutionize the most basic and stubborn source of the problem – the human heart. This change of heart is what we need as a nation. This is what you need now as an individual.
Christ can and wants to revolutionize your life – your home – your community – the entire nation. But it will have to start with you.
Something vital and historic could happen to America that could turn this country around. If men and women across the land will turn to God, it could have a profound effect of the future of this nation.
It may seem unlikely, but in spite of all of our problems I see some encouraging signs that this is already beginning to happen. For example, thousands of prayer groups and Bible study groups have sprung up from coast to coast. In many of these groups, Jews, Catholics, and Protestants alike are meeting in their desperate search for life’s true meaning. Thousands of people have already found that Christ is the answer, especially among young people, and that he gives new purpose and direction to life.
The trend of our nation can be reversed. However, it will happen only as individual men and women reverse the trend of their lives by committing themselves to Jesus Christ.
I’m not asking you to turn to Christ in order to save America. I ask you to turn to Christ so that you can have purpose and meaning in your own life, so that you can find forgiveness before God, so you can have salvation and eternal life.
But I believe that in the midst of cynicism, discouragement and disillusionment, it’s time to believe again, it’s time to hope again, it’s time to sing again, but you can only do it, and the nation can only be blessed, if first you have peace with God.
It is my prayer that you will find that peace – not only peace with God, but peace inside and peace with your neighbor.