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God's in charge

An open letter to a leader who appreciates that

Issue: "Portable Pentagon," March 1, 2003


A couple of weeks ago, in one of our Friday phone conversations, my mother and I ventured onto the subject of world affairs. "I've been getting these e-mails," she told me, "from people I've never heard of, about how we should all pray that Saddam will just leave Iraq before there's a war, or that the Iraqi army will throw down their weapons before a shot is even fired. I don't want a war either, but ... I just don't feel comfortable telling God what He should do."

That's an understatement. My own family is hardly subject to my control, much less world affairs. Like you, Mr. President, I've known the uncertainty that besets a parent when the kids start making their own foolish decisions. But unlike you I've never been interrupted, while reading a picture book to little children in school, with the news that the nation under my watch has entered a new and terrible phase of violent confrontation. It's all chaos out there, my mother and I agreed. The Prince of this world thrives on it; at any moment, the trap could drop and plunge any or all of us into eternity. The devil's most recent ploy, very effective to a postmodern mind, is to convince people that chaos is raw material to shape to our advantage.

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But I don't think you are of that mind. It's true, our society excels at artful posing and image creation; the man we see filling the presidential suit may be something other than the decent, caring, and devout individual he seems. Maybe a leader is just playing to those on the right, what used to be called the "moral majority," to keep a political base from eroding. Are you doing that?

Nah. Any persona is hard to hold up day after day without some cracks appearing, especially under the strain of international crises like we've not seen for at least 20 years. I think we're hearing from you what you really think and feel. With some of it I would take issue, such as your apparent sunny view of human nature: The "wonder-working power" you spoke of in your last State of the Union speech is not in the American people, but the blood of the Lamb. Perhaps that's understandable. Yours is the confidence of the first-born son of a prominent family, of a near-ideal American upbringing added to the inestimable privilege of unqualified love from your parents and wife. But none of that is enough to keep a man centered in the middle of trials that one recent Internet commentator compared to Job's.

So there's more to it, as I believe I heard last weekend: a deeper note reverberating in your first statement after the Columbia disaster. Quoting one of the great God-exalting passages of Isaiah, you concluded, "The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home."

In a nation of sentimentalists eager to assert the eternal destiny of anyone decent and brave, you stopped short at heaven's gate. You did not tell God whom He should save, what He should do.

On March 1865, after his second swearing-in as president, Abraham Lincoln also quoted Scripture in a much graver crisis: "Fondly do we hope-fervently do we pray-that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled up by the bondman's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago so, still it must be said, 'The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'" For Lincoln, the sovereign will of God had become his ultimate security and consolation. I hope it's that way for you.

Mr. President, when my mom and I were talking, I told her, "If what we hear is true, there's a man in the White House who begins every day on his knees. So we can pray that God will tell him what to do."

"I can do that," she said.

Mr. President, it's a Christian's duty to pray for those God has placed in authority over him. For you, sir, it is a privilege.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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