Last week, to celebrate one of our granddaughter’s 16th birthday, my husband and I spent 4 days in our nation’s capitol. Accompanied by her 13 year old sister and armed with their googled lists of “must sees” in Washington, we hit the ground running each morning hardly stopping until we fell in bed at night grateful for sleep.
In early summer Washington is a city of well-manicured green spaces and beautiful flowers; a city full of government buildings, museums, monuments, statues and tourists. The beauty and atmosphere of friendliness softened the long wait in lines we had outside of some of the most popular museums. Great effort has been expended to make accessible the founding, history and technological developments of our country. The Smithsonian Museums are amazing, extremely well done and free.
Consistently one of the longest waits is outside of the National Archives. One family we waited with, including the grandfather, his four children, their spouses and children, drove all the way from Houston, Texas so the children could see the real Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution they had read about in their school books.
Two very simple observations we had reflecting on our time there: first, memorials, museums instructing about the past are valuable and critical to a nation’s history and preservation. We learn from the past and from where we have come. Everywhere are reminders to remember what has happened in our nation’s history. And second, it was hard not to notice how many of our early founders quite naturally and comfortably referred to God – His protection, His sovereignty and His grace.
One statue in the rotunda of the capitol that particularly caught our attention was an honoring by the state of Georgia of Crawford W. Lang, M.D., discoverer of the use of sulphuric ether as an anesthetic in surgery on March 30, 1842. This was a huge medical break through, but what got our attention was the statement inscribed below his statue – “My profession is to me a ministry from God.”
At the Jefferson Memorial - “God who gave us liberty, can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?… for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
At the Lincoln Memorial – “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
At the changing of the Guard in Arlington Cemetery we saw inscribed on the tomb of the unknown soldier - “known only to God”.
Over and over again we were reminded that freedom is not free…at each of the war memorials – World War I, II, Korea, Viet Nam…at Arlington with all the white gravestones lined up so neatly which spoke in silence of those who gave their lives for the cause of freedom.
Our youngest granddaughter was especially impacted by the inscription over the tomb of George Washington at Mount Vernon – “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies.” John 11:25
You cannot escape the fact that God was acknowledged, honored and revered by these early leaders of our nation.
Remembering and honoring our Creator – old themes, themes valued and instructed by God early in biblical history are still valid today. Memorials remind succeeding generations. And for a Christian, the stories of God’s hand in each of our stories honors Him and keeps our focus on who is really the sovereign ruler of nations.