In God We Trust

The motto IN GOD WE TRUST first began appearing on two-cent coins during the Civil War, when America's faith was tested as never before. It didn't matter which side you were on.  As Lincoln observed in his second inaugural address, "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other."  Some people objected to profaning the Lord's good name by putting it on on currency that might find its way into a brothel or a saloon.  Teddy Roosevelt felt the motto was more appropriately displayed on courthouses or national monuments.  IN GOD WE TRUST did not appear on all paper currency and coins until the Cold War, when the country felt besieged by godless communism.  The phrase replaced "E Pluribus Unum" as the official motto of the United States in 1956.  Following 9/11, a grassroots movement got under way to require that IN GOD WE TRUST be displayed in every school classroom, auditorium and cafeteria in America.

Trusting God is presumed to be a good thing.  And yet the Muslim extremists who flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11 also trusted in God.  They trusted him so absolutely they were willing to die for their faith.  At what point does trusting in God veer off into fanaticism?  Perhaps if the hijackers had not trusted in God so much, 9/11 would not have happened, and the world would have been better off for it.  Once again, as in every struggle to the death, each side fervently believes that God is on theirs.  Lincoln understood only too well that the blood shed by each side in a cause they believe to be just may be God's judgment on both.

Fanaticism aside, where does trust in God get you?  Are faithful people nicer, happier or richer than anyone else?  Do they at least find some peace of mind?  The record seems decidedly mixed on all counts.  Those who regard faith as an inoculation against suffering are soon disabused of the notion.   Some find strength in adversity; for others, their distress is all the greater when the world comes crashing down around them.  How could God allow this to happen to me, whatever "this" happens to be?  We admire Job for his refusal to curse God and die, as his wife urged him to do, when everything he loved and held dear was taken away from him on a whim.  But was that faith or mere stubbornness? 

Then there are those bedraggled few, whether chosen by God or forsaken by him it is impossible to tell.  We never know quite what to make of them, the ones referred to in the Bible as the "faithful remnant."  There are no obvious identifying markings, and they rarely call attention to themselves.  On matters of faith they are apt to believe that some things are best left unsaid.  Without zealotry, without illusion, without assurance of a better deal in the hereafter, without recompense of any kind, they are somehow able to accept life on its own terms, come what may. This truly is a leap of faith.

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