The Most Basic of the Basics

by Dr. Rick Flanders


“And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”
(Job 28:28)
The most encouraging development on the American political scene today is the new effort of influential conservatives to call the country back to its basics. The founding principles of the nation are being reviewed and expounded over the airwaves and in best-selling books. Our founding documents are being republished and re-read, and citizens are being urged to study them and to understand them. One talk-show host has called on his viewers and listeners to become “Refounders” of the country, to make the nation over based on its original principles. Conservatives for years have said we should go back, but now several of them are urging us to go all the way back. And the idea is a good one. However, there is something important missing in this development that will be essential to making America again the bastion of freedom it was founded to be. That missing element can be found in the Bible, the most important of our cultural founding documents.
The five books grouped between the historic books and the prophetic books of the Old Testament can be classified as “wisdom books.” Originally written in poetic Hebrew form, they address the fundamental questions of life, and answer them with both depth and clarity. They are the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. They take up many issues, but Job deals primarily with the question, “Why do the righteous suffer?” The Psalms repeatedly handle the question, “Why do the wicked prosper?” Proverbs tells us how a young man can become wise. Ecclesiastes explains why an old man who knows wisdom may still be frustrated and not find fulfillment. The Song shows us that fulfillment and joy in this life are not to be had in finding wisdom alone, but rather in finding a love relationship with the Savior of the World. It is an exciting adventure to study the wisdom books of the Old Testament. When one does so, he soon discovers what the foundation of a successful life really is. It is something called, “the fear of the LORD” (Look up Job 28:28, Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, and Ecclesiastes 12:13). The development of a genuine reverence, a reasonable and loving dread, of the Most High, is basic to the building of a good life. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…”
There is a reason why the Founding Fathers envisioned liberty, not as the license to do evil, but as the freedom to do good. They were committed to the kind of freedom that produces the good life, and not the kind that leads to chaos. The Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, as well as the Federalist Papers and the United States Constitution, were written at a time when the American people were still feeling the powerful influence of a national religious revival. The “Great Awakening” (as historians, both theological and secular, still call it) preceded the War of Independence, and touched every facet of American life. Although the war itself cooled the religious fervor of the awakening (as wars always do), the fundamental doctrines of the revival still had significant control of American thinking for many years to come.
The Founders distrusted human nature, and wrote provisions to protect us from it into the Constitution. This healthy distrust arose out of the Christian doctrine of depravity. Our Constitutional affirmations of the right to private property come from the Law of God in the Bible. Respect for human rights is produced by respect for the Royal Law of scripture (James 2:8): “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Limits were placed on government because the Founders knew that the salvation of man cannot be achieved by civil laws and the use of force. Moral progress and improvement are results of the kind of divine work in the hearts of men that Americans had seen in the Awakening. Government has its role, but it is not the redemption of mankind. “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Constitutional provisions for limiting the power of the state and separating the state from the church came from Biblical thinking. The fear of the Lord produced by the Great Awakening was responsible for much of the thinking that gave us our kind of government.
“Wisdom” flows from “the fear of the Lord.” This is a very basic truth taught in the wisdom books of the Bible. The wise man understands how life really works, and orders his life to produce the best outcomes, based on this understanding. In the 28th chapter of the book of Job, a wise and righteous man sums up where this wisdom comes from. After drawing word pictures that describe the search men can make for real wisdom (seeking “a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen: the lion’s whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it”), Job tells us that finding the path of wisdom is actually very simple. “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.” If we can respect the God of the Bible enough to refrain from breaking His commandments, we will be wise. And true wisdom is the sum of American conservatism. A conservative is one who makes decisions based on proven principles. A liberal wants to act on ideas that seem (or feel) right to him, but have not been proven true over the years. Some so-called liberal ideas have actually been proven untrue in practice, but liberals still want to implement them because they want them to be true. The success of the American experiment, politically and otherwise, has been because it is based on valid (and Biblical) wisdom. And the basis of such wisdom was and is the fear of the Lord.
The country will never see the “Conservative Victory” some are predicting, or the “re-founding” of the republic others are proposing, unless it returns to the most basic of our cultural, political, and economic foundations: the fear of God. Unfortunately, this most basic of the basics is the element missing in most of the conservative crusading this year. For instance, one important element in reverencing the Lord is respecting His wishes in our speech. Jesus said, “Swear not at all…But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matthew 5:33-37). Any sense of respect for the Almighty has been removed from most of the conservative radio programs by the profane language that is used. This must also be said about at least some of the speeches conservative politicians have made lately. The use of “hell” and “damn” as curse words has always been a way to make light of somber and sacred realities. The other curse words also express disregard for the listening ears of a holy God. Some (including this writer) think that certain styles of music express disdain for morals and standards, and a bad attitude towards God. The creators, composers, and performers of these styles have told us as much. The widespread use of the music that has always been associated with the moral degeneration of Western culture has actually undermined the conservative message of most talk radio. Some who speak for “the Right” openly live in disregard of Biblical morality. The concept that God is to be feared is essential to American conservatism, and giving it up in order to get and keep an audience is sowing seeds of failure. Is American conservatism trying to tell the people that, although they believe in God and in absolute truth and morality, they are still “cool,” and don’t really live as you would expect people to live who believe such things? If the right-wing media and their political allies are trying to do this, they will certainly fail to reestablish the nation on its founding principles.
The Great Awakening came before the Constitution, and in some sense gave birth to it. It was a religious revival in the land that established as self-evident the concepts on which our country was built. The thing that gave us liberty was the wisdom of the ages, based on the fear of the Lord. To go back to the basics will be to go back to fearing God. Irreverent conservatism will not set the nation straight.
And the involvement of religion, even orthodox and evangelical religion, in the conservative movement has not given the movement what is needed in regard to the fear of the Lord. In the twentieth century, American Christianity, including most of evangelical Christianity, became so compromised with the downward trends of society, that it had little effect on that downward trend. In other words, Christian voices raised in the conservative movement, even when they invoke God and quote Scripture, have not generally revived a sense of reverence before a holy God. It has been as though even the servants of God have forgotten that He is holy. What is needed is a real revival of New Testament Christianity, such as occurred here in the Great Awakening. We need a turning to God that turns us from our wicked ways. This is the most basic need of all human hearts, and is essential to the rebirth (if one is to occur) of our beloved nation.
The “re-founding” of America is certainly not hopeless, but it must certainly involve an unreserved and unashamed “re-preaching” of the faith of our fathers. And the faith of our fathers was belief in the God of the Bible, before Whom men must bow and toward Whom we all must turn in repentance. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of the new beginning our country needs.

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Comments (1)

Anthony July 5th, 2011 at 10:07 pm    

Thank you for this very insightful post. America certainly needs to get back to the basics of fearing God. Praise The Lord for His mercy but America needs to wake up soon. I’m thankful for a great church that is seeking to bring Americans back to God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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