New Church Life March/April 2017 - Page 11

 earthquake itself and as far away as the coast of North Africa from a resulting giant tsunami wave. The tremors set church bells tolling all over Europe. Lisbon then was the center of the Catholic Church – not Rome – and the earthquake struck on All Saints Day when churches were filled. Many worshippers died in their pews, setting off speculation that this was God’s judgment on the Catholic Church. Others were convinced that God simply was not present. French philosopher Voltaire wrote his withering satirical novel Candide, mocking optimists who still found comfort in God. But an unmistakable chain of events began leading to good outcomes – seen by many as the hand of providence. Strict orthodoxy began giving way to open minds and freedom of speech. New ideas were no longer scorned but welcomed. There was an evangelic revival in England and missionary efforts spread throughout the world. The arc of history – and religion – was “bent” in a positive direction. There was also an event in 1688 – coincidentally the year of Swedenborg’s birth – when the Spanish Armada was kept from invading and overrunning England by what was called a “Protestant Wind.” It, too, was seen as a sign of divine intervention – or providence. Indeed, a commemorative medal was struck in England with the inscription: “He blew His winds, and they were scattered.” Much of the history of the United States is often framed in the context of providence. The term “American exceptionalism” is often misused and misunderstood. It does not imply that America is exceptional in the sense of “better than.” Indeed, every nation and every person is loved and led by the Lord. But “American exceptionalism” is rooted in the declaration that people’s rights flow from God, not government – and that government of “we the people” is the exception to all that has gone before. Today’s leaders are careful not to sound “too religious,” but the Founding Fathers were outspoken in their faith in God and providence. Michael Medved, a nationally syndicated talk show host, has a new book out called unabashedly: The American Miracle – Divine Providence in the Rise of the Republic. Bill Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education and author of such books as America: The Last Best Hope offers this conviction: “Michael Medved chronicles in intriguing detail how America’s unlikely founding and enduring success can’t be explained by luck or coincidence but only one thing: divine providence. After reading this book, even the toughest skeptics will be hard pressed not to believe that God had a role in America’s fortune.” Benjamin Franklin, one of the more eminent of the Founding Fathers, famously said to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 in Philadelphia: “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow 77