Still on the theme of hope, which our new president has providentially chosen to preach at every occasion…obama_inagu_mall

 President Obama delivered another message of hope in his Inaugural Address, and named the ideal of that hope, echoing the Declaration of Independence: “the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”  Here again, Obama has taken his cue from the master speech-maker, Lincoln, who repeatedly drew upon the idealism of the founding fathers.  Lincoln recognized that belief in those ideals was crucial to the existence and survival of the young nation and its new form of constitutional government. President Obama likewise claims that we are still youngsters on the grand stage of history, and that our raison d’être hasn’t changed; our spirit remains grounded in the same ideals in which Lincoln trusted:

“We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

What I find most hopeful here in Obama’s words are not the ideals themselves, but rather the source of hope: God.  The Scripture he cites-about setting aside childish things-is (like 99% of Scripture) decidedly non-idealistic.  It is above all, realistic.  The full verse reads like this:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. [1 Cor. 13:11-13]

This is a message about the reality of living in a messy world, in a messy time, a time in which the consequences of prosperity and greed, irresponsibility and fear have reached crisis proportions.  But these things remain, undiminished: faith, hope and love.  This Scripture names the only reality worth hoping in-the reality of knowing fully, even as we are known.  And we know that faith, hope and love will survive today’s moment of crisis, and abide throughout every moment to come for all time.

I find Obama’s choice of this Scripture hopeful because he uses it to remind of the true source of our hope:

“This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny…”

We won’t find hope in ideals, which always appear in tarnished form; nor can we take confidence in our ability to get all the hard decisions right in matters of government.  Our confidence rather lies solely in God.  As Christians, our job is to live lives that bear witness to him, pressing on even though we can’t see very far ahead.  Being witnesses in uncertain times, in the midst of crisis, yet unafraid and full of hope.  That’s what it means to put aside childish ways.  I hope that’s what Barack H. Obama meant when he chose to cite this Scripture.


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