Today is July 4th, known in America as “Independence Day,” the day our nation officially proclaimed our independence from the British monarchy. We now have 237 candles in our national cake. Happy Birthday to us.
As this holiday has approached, I have been thinking a lot lately about our independence, as a people and nation.
When you are born, you are immediately dependent upon your parents for survival. By age two, however, you begin to develop some level of independence. You want to feed yourself, walk where you want, do things on your own. This is normal and quite healthy as we grow. Time passes and that “terrible two” eventually realizes that he/she still needs Mom and Dad a bit more than they thought. The child again recognizes their dependence. This dependent/independent pendulum swings again at least three different times over the course of your life; during the teen years, in young adulthood and again as we enter the elderly phase. These independent/dependent stages are very normal. On one level, we desperately want our independence. On another level, there are seasons where we are dependent upon the very people we desire independence from. Such is human nature and the way life works. As much as we desire it, we are not as independent as we like to think.
237 years ago, we officially declared our national independence from the British government. Like a prodigal son, we left the shores of England and embarked on a dangerous journey “across the pond.” Against incredible obstacles, we created our own constitution and laws and began a new country with new traditions, like none the world had ever seen. Today we take a day as a nation to celebrate our independence.
But are we really independent?
By definition the word implies that an independent one is “free from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.” By that definition, are any of us truly free?
- I don’t need to tell you how important oil is to our nation’s economy and lifestyle. The U.S. imports approximately 10.6 million barrels of petroleum (per day) from about 80 countries. That sounds like dependence to me.
- Of our $16 trillion in debt, approximately $5 trillion is held by more than 35 other countries, with China and Japan topping the list.
- 51% of the world’s coffee consumption comes from Brazil, Colombia & Indonesia. These countries (among many others) control our access to the number one drug in America. In other words, if it wasn’t for Latin America, you would be late for work, grumpy and experiencing caffeine withdrawal every day of the week.
- Your cell phone, computer and flat screen TV are brought to you by rare earth minerals such as neodymium. Unfortunately, the United States only possesses 13% of the world’s rare earth reserves. Because of this, we have become heavily dependent upon numerous foreign countries (like China) as these rare earth minerals are crucial in the manufacture of jet fighter engines, antimissile defense systems, and smart bombs, among other advanced military systems. Even our military dominance is dependent upon others.
- We are even dependent upon the continent of Africa. 75% of the world’s chocolate comes from this third world nation. As we all know, this can singlehandedly control a woman’s mood. <wink>
As great as America is, as sovereign as we are, as dominant as we are in world affairs, we are still massively dependent upon other countries. We can celebrate our independence and even enjoy the perks of being a world power, but we must not forget that we are not the world’s parent – merely one of the larger siblings in a global family.
As I reflect on our personal dependence upon family and friends and our nation’s dependence upon other nations, I can’t help but think of our collective dependence upon an Almighty God. In His grace, He “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45) Christian and pagan alike are all dependent upon the One who “holds all things together.” (Colossians 1:17)
For example, modern scientists marvel at the human brain. With more memory and capacity than our fastest computer, we still haven’t come close to uncovering its magnificence or even tapping its full potential. Without the creative power of the brain, we could not develop any “smart” technology in our hands today. Without our intelligent designs and industrial strength, we could not build the homes, structures, highways & vehicles that allow us to live and work and travel like we do. But how did our human brain come to be? Was it the result of a random big bang? Could it have evolved over millions of years from a single cell out of a stagnant lake? Or did an alien life form actually drop the beginnings of life to Earth? Honestly, it takes more faith to believe some of these theories than it does to believe that an Intelligent Creator created an intelligent creation. The truth is, God created us and then gifted us with such immense creativity and ability, that He Himself once said of mankind that “nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” (Genesis 11:6) How staggering is that comment from the Creator of the universe, One who creates something out of nothing?? Even the atheist, as he proclaims his independence from God (Proverbs 14:1), does so with borrowed air in his lungs while standing on a planet that hangs precariously balanced at just the optimal tilt and distance from the Sun.
The point is, the concept of independence is somewhat ridiculous. None of us are truly independent. In spite what we might think, none of us are “self-made.” As you stand at the summit of your mountain, career or personal achievement, just remember – you arrived at the peak with some help – even if you choose not to recognize it.
Just as we can scarcely call ourselves independent as a nation, likewise we are equally dependent (personally speaking) on others. For years, I spent most of my life living on an emotionally independent island. For the most part, I kept my feelings, thoughts and struggles to myself. Though I helped others with their problems, I never allowed anyone to help me with mine. Fearful of transparency and intimacy, I lived behind a safe emotional wall and enjoyed my fascade of emotional independence. Others needed me. I convinced myself that I didn’t need them. Sadly, what I didn’t realize at the time was how that thinking was killing me and destroying the relationships of those I loved. One day, my emotional wall came crashing down and I became instantly dependent upon others for survival. Five years later, I still find myself leaning hard on family and friends – like I never have before. It has been a frightenly refreshing experience. English poet, John Donne, once wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” He was right. The ferry to my emotional island is now closed. I’m enjoying my new life back on the mainland.
As you celebrate Independence Day today, take a moment to recognize your dependence on others and your dependence upon an Almighty God. Thank them for the role they have played in your life. You wouldn’t (and couldn’t) be where you are today without them.
As the Apostle Paul reminded those in Athens, “God is not far from each one of us for in Him we live and move and exist.” (Acts 17:27-28) Jesus reminded His disciples about this same truth in the Book of John, “I am the Vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
No one is truly independent. Not you. Not me. Not even the powerful United States of America.
- “The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.” – John Adams
- “The Fourth of July ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.” – John Adams
- “And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God … and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.” – Abraham Lincoln