For our devotional thought this week following last week's hard-fought and exhausting general election, I want to share a brief excerpt from Dr. Jon Meacham's powerful book, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.
"The word from Warm Springs was devastating. It was April 12, 1945, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt was dead. In London, Winston Churchill felt the news as a 'physical blow.' In Berlin, the Nazi high command, nearing defeat, hoped the president's death was a good omen for the fate of the Third Reich. (It wasn't). And in Washington, a young congressman from Texas was distraught beyond measure. 'He was just like a daddy to me always,' Lyndon B. Johnson said. 'He was the one person I ever knew, anywhere, who was never afraid.'
"Roosevelt had come to power twelve years earlier in the bleakest of hours. No one knew whether the world as it was known could long endure amid destabilizing unemployment, Dust Bowl dislocations, and plummeting confidence in the familiar American order. Yet, under Roosevelt's leadership, the Constitution and the market economy survived, and Nazi tyranny and Japanese imperialism fell. Now, in our own extraordinary moment, facing pandemic and panic, we are desperate for the steadying hand that Roosevelt offered not so long ago."
The presidency, as Roosevelt knew, is preeminently a place of moral leadership, a beacon of stability in unstable times. Roosevelt met the moment because of his empathy, his life experience, his faith in America, and his insistence on the centrality of both fact and faith. We learned from both Lyndon Johnson with Vietnam and Richard Nixon with Watergate that to sugarcoat the truth or deny reality only leads to failure and more trouble. Presidents, as perhaps with preachers, must give it to us straight.
Will President-elect Biden be that steadying hand, bringing stability in unstable times? Only time will tell. But I was encouraged by what I heard in his speech to the nation last Saturday evening. He referenced a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, when he said, "To everything there is a season: a time to build, a time to reap, and a time to sow and a time to heal." Then, he added, "This is the time to heal in America."
Joe Biden also quoted a hymn I've often used in funerals entitled, "On Eagles' Wings." It includes the words, "You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shelter for life, say to the Lord, 'My refuge, my rock in whom I trust.'" America's past -- and our own personal experience -- unmistakably tell us that the way to a more perfect union is found in our reliance, not on candidates nor political parties, but upon God.
I understand that Joe Biden is a weekly church attender and is devoted to his Catholic tradition. Biden is likely no Roosevelt -- no one is or may ever fully be -- but I pray that he will lead us with a character and ethos formed by the lessons of history, of hope, and of faith in God. If so, he will have earned something more important than our votes. He will have earned our respect.