The sight of breathtaking fireworks, the delicious smell of outdoor grilling, and maybe a day off of work—those things usually happen during our July 4th holiday and John Adams, the second president of our country, would heartily encourage us to continue doing them.
We know this is true because President John Adams wrote this to his wife, Abigail: “I believe that [America’s birthday] will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other…”
We’ve been celebrating July 4th as the birthday of our country for over two centuries, but what exactly are we celebrating? Are we just celebrating because we love a big party? What is the big deal about America? We are just one nation among many in this big world. In light of all those other countries, is there anything about America that is unique or special?
In honor of America’s birthday, let’s talk about some of the things that make it exceptional in world history. For example, America is a world power that has set millions of people free from dictators, instead of moving in and ruling those liberated countries. America has produced and shared more wealth than any other country in the history of the world.
There are other positive examples of things America has done, but there is one core feature of America’s founding that sets it apart from every other country in the history of the world. The leaders who founded our country believed firmly in a truth that is seldom talked about anymore. They believed that human nature could not be trusted. Lord Acton (1834–1902), a British historian, is the one who said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
Because our founders believed this, they designed our government so that power would not be concentrated in one person or even one group of people. Some political authority was divided into the three branches of the federal government. Other authority rested only with the state governments. Why? Because Lord Acton was right. Human nature cannot be trusted with too much power.
History teaches that “power corrupts absolutely”. Many of the Roman leaders started out humble but later announced that they were gods. After the French leader, Napoleon racked up some military victories, he declared himself to be the world’s undisputed emperor. Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein are more recent examples of leaders who were both powerful and corrupt.
History is not the only way to know that “power corrupts absolutely”. The Bible tells us that corruption is rooted deep in the human heart. It clearly states that, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:10–12).
Since that is true of all people, then it is easy to see how those with more authority, or even those who just imagine they have more authority, would evidence more of that corruption.“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
America’s founders invented a government that didn’t put its trust in their leaders. It has worked well for us, and we will celebrate our country’s birthday together this 4th of July.
That celebration can serve as a reminder, too. Where are you putting your trust? Is it in your own abilities, goodness, or good deeds? There is no assurance, no certainty, in trusting any human being. Instead, Jesus invites us to admit our sin problem and to put our trust in Him. “But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22).
I hope you will turn to the Lord. He is the only Savior you can trust no matter what. I’m praying that you will, “Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock” (Isaiah 26:4).