Intended or not, Donald Trump's inaugural program and speech has put America back on two sturdy legs that have been whacked at, sawn into, axed, and whittled upon: the theme of God's transcendence on the one side, and the importance of a reverential fear of the Lord on the other.
Without those crucial principles at the core of a nation it can quickly become just another dictatorship presided over by a dominating individual who, in the style of Lucifer, seeks to push God off His throne and place himself or herself there — or, as the French Revolution showed, a mob who begins its reign of terror by removing God from its core.
The loss of the sense of God's transcendence and reverential fear of the Lord is the greatest crisis now sweeping America and Europe.
Who would have thought Donald Trump would have restored such themes to the public focus?
A man whose moral reputation is splotched, soiled, and uneven, whose faith seemingly was a marginal issue for a good bit of his adulthood, and whose view of marriage would apparently fall short of the biblical standard, facilitated at his swearing-in more praying than any other president. The Scriptures resounded, as well as the prophets, and a quote from Psalm 133 from Trump's own lips.
Donald Trump might be a living example of the fact that God does indeed choose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1).
Trump seemed to want to show the world that America is a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values. President Trump himself made bold proclamations.
Human dignity, for example, is based on the fact that "whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator."
Trump will be accused by some of trying to evoke a civil religion. Learned tomes will be written about how America is not a theocracy — it is not, and I know of no Jewish or Christian leaders who want it to be — how he violated the separation of church and state, and how he departed from history in inserting so much religion in his inaugural ceremony.
Having worked in the White House and Congress, and observed the co-opting of religion for political purposes, I am no fan of civil religion or theocratic government. But neither do I favor the extreme that making any mention of God and the Bible at a governmental function is out of place.
Quite the opposite is true.
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, the minister of New York's Congregation Shearith Israel, is also a historian, and serves as director of the Straus Center for the Torah and Western Thought. He wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Trump's inclusion of so many faith elements followed in the pattern set by George Washington.
"Washington was right," said Rabbi Soloveichik, "pious gratitude for the Constitution is an appropriate response at every inaugural." The Rabbi wrote that the presidential inaugurals provide "a time to reflect on the unique nature of the American republic — and to marvel at the miracle of the founding, the Constitution of this country."
The United States is the world's only nation "whose political discourse is framed by the (biblical) idea of covenant" made in the presence of God, said British Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, as quoted by Rabbi Soloveichik. Rabbi Sacks sees the inaugural ceremonies as giving opportunity for renewal and national rededication to the covenant and its principles.
In addition to the Christian ministers, and the first rabbi to appear at a presidential inauguration in 32 Years, Trump himself spoke boldly about God. Rather than lamenting this it must be encouraged. Among the reasons George Washington steered his inaugural in a spiritual direction was because he understood the frailties of human nature. Many of his peers were trying to elevate Washington to a king-like, even God-like stature. Washington knew that a presidential personality could succumb easily to hubris, exalting itself to a near-divine status.
It had happened before in history, and Washington knew it. After he had triumphed over King George III in the American Revolution, Washington could have made himself a powerful, seemingly divine dictator. But rather than forcing himself into the role of a deity as did Roman emperors, he assumed the style of Cincinnatus, a fifth century BC farmer who saved Rome from invaders. Cincinnatus could have assumed tyrannical power, but went back to his farming.
Donald Trump's ego is, to borrow one of his favorite words, huge. So, rather than smirking at his references to the Creator-God and the spiritual nature of his inauguration, there should be rejoicing that Trump recognizes there is Someone greater than himself to whom he must be accountable.
I am reluctant to be a "this-is-that" person. Thus I am not certain that the rain that fell at an auspicious moment in Trump's inauguration was evidence of God's blessing — though I hope and believe that could be the case. Nor can I readily embrace the idea that Trump is the new Cyrus who will restore a chosen people to a new Jerusalem, though that may turn out to be true as well. Before pronouncing the approval of God on something or someone, it is better to wait long enough to examine the fruit.
So, I will be praying — I am sure with millions — that "this" president is indeed "that" one whom God will use to bring renewal to the land and blessing to the world.
Planning an inaugural program that has helped stand the nation back on the two legs of the recognition of Transcendence and reverential fear of the Lord is a good start.