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“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.” –Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NASV)

The previous century was often referred to as “The American Century.” And so it was. Leadership in two world wars, with ultimate victory. Leadership in the West’s industrialization. Leadership in creating a growing, mobile and free middle class. Leadership in public education. Leadership in higher education. Leadership in business and manufacturing. Leadership in the exploration of new worlds beyond our own.

Yet it is a rare man or woman who – surrounded by the trappings of success – by the chorus of “yes” men and women ascending the ladder beneath him – how rare is it that such a person asks himself the question that has haunted all successful people throughout history. “Am I truly more intelligent, more creative, more courageous, more handsome or beautiful, indeed more admired than all those who came before me? Or am I simply in the right place at the right time, and experiencing God’s favor?”

It is a tough question, isn’t it? Tough to ask; tougher to answer. Tough, because we all want to believe that we are God’s gift to the world. We even seem hesitant to give our genes, that is to say, our forebears, any credit. “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” wrote Sir Isaac Newton, to his rival Robert Hooke, in a 1676 letter. It is a phrase seldom heard today. But does that make it any less true?

The Christian tradition tells us that pride is the greatest sin in God’s eyes. Judas knew better than Jesus how to fix the world – so he betrayed his Master to his enemies. But not before enriching himself with 30 pieces of silver. Yet Judas at least asked and answered the question, if only after the deed was done.

We live within a created universe. Furthermore, we live within the confines of our own creation. God chose to constrain us by time and distance, to name just two.

But the Creator is constrained by neither. He chose to constrain our knowledge, through the size and function of our brain. And finally, when we turned away from Him, in an act of mercy exceeded only by the gift of his Son, God chose to constrain our term of existence upon the earth.

And yet the creature, wrapping himself in the robes of human pride, stands beating his chest toward the heavens, seeking daily to lecture the Creator on his many and varied failings.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” It was the cry of The American Century. It was the cry of a nation filled with men, women and leaders who still asked themselves, “What is my responsibility to my fellow man for this great gift from God? What is my responsibility to the Creator for receiving such a gift?”

“I am the greatest! Bow down and worship me!” That is the cry of The Post-American Century and those who reside within this time. They think it is a new discovery. It is a cry that is older than history itself. It was the cry of the “Cherub who covereth” when he attempted to usurp God’s kingdom for his own.

And here is the epitaph that will be engraved upon America’s tombstone, as we assume our place in the graveyard of history: “No nation on earth has ever turned its backside to God and lived to tell about it.”

(See an earlier usage of Newton’s phrase.)

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