BRADY COLUMN: Measuring a nation’s greatness

Published 10:30 am Saturday, June 12, 2021

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We often sing the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and rightly so. But today I want us to think “Great is Our Faithfulness” and help make it so. Think of how many great empires have come and gone in spite of their largeness. Focus on the history of Assyria, Babylonia, the kingdom of Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, Nazi Germany, the Communist Empire and others. Greatness is never a matter of size.

Now, if greatness is not a matter of size, of what does greatness consist?To be more specific, what are the characteristics of a nation’s greatness? That’s our subject, and I want to share a few thoughts.

The first characteristic of a nation’s greatness is its sense of spiritual destiny! The reason the Bible is in a class apart from other ancient history is because through all its human record there is the overtone of Divine Reality. The Hebrews believed that they were God’s children and that God had a purpose and a destiny for them. They were to be a blessing to others. And I have read some of this kind of thinking in the early history of our own country. For example, among the signers of the Declaration of Independence was a brilliant young physician named Benjamin Rush. When Rush was elected to that First Continental Congress, his close friend Benjamin Franklin told him, “We need you. We have a great task before us, assigned to us by Providence.” Historically, American citizens have recognized a group of absolute values that have served as the moral and social foundation of our culture. As this nation developed, we accepted this range of biblical concepts as the boundaries of our thoughts, words and deeds. Even if we didn’t perfectly keep them, and regretfully we didn’t, we still knew they were the accepted boundaries of propriety. Sadly, this is no longer the case in this country.

The second characteristic of a nation’s greatness is its unity in diversity. My late minister friend, Jim Moore, described what happened in Houston, Texas on Wednesday night June 22, 1994. On that night, the Houston Rockets basketball team defeated the New York Knicks in the seventh and final game of the NBA championship. What a night it was for the Houston Rockets and their fans. What a night it was for the city of Houston and the state of Texas. Jim Moore said it was thrilling in every way. But what thrilled him the most that night was the way that event brought people together, connected people, bonded people, united people. The walls that so often divided people came down that night, and we became one. Class didn’t matter. Color didn’t matter. Cultural background didn’t matter. Houston Rockets’ fans were united. We became one.

Haven’t we in Atlanta seen a dose of that recently when the Atlanta Hawks beat the New York Knicks in the first round of the NBA basketball play offs.

Those same walls that so often divide us came down. Hawks fans were one.Jim Moore said he found himself wondering why it can’t be like this all the time? And that is the hopeful question in my heart.

The third characteristic of a nation’s greatness is the quality of its heroes and heroines. Here, I’m talking about the character of the people we exalt, honor and revere. What kind of people are they? A few years back there was an editorial written in one of our nation’s major newspapers. It was entitled “America has a Glut of Celebrities, but a Dearth of Heroes.” And who of us can deny the truth of that in our time, where drugs, sex, questionable character and untruths grab the headlines? In the Hebrew Testament, the great heroes and heroines are not chiefly military conquerors or politicians or sports figures or performers or even sex symbols. Rather, these heroes and heroines are men and women whose conquests are mainly in the arena of the soul. Character.

Let me conclude. A family made a tour of New York City. At the close of the day, they asked their little girl about the trip. Most impressive to her, as to almost every visitor, was the Statue of Liberty. They said to their daughter, “What about the trip?” The little girl replied, “I keep thinking about the lady holding the lamp. Don’t you think we ought to help her?”