The traditional motto of the United States of America is E Pluribus Unum—“Out of many, one.” From 1775, when the first shots of the American Revolution were fired, to 1781, when the British surrendered at Yorktown and we won our independence, 13 diverse colonies fought as one. And though passions threatened our unity during the process of ratification, in the end, compromise and conviction led to a Constitution that has become the envy of the world.
However, since E Pluribus Unum appeared on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782, Americans--with the exception of the Civil War -- have never been more divided. Today, our nation seems to be closer to Unum De Multis—“out of one, many.”
How did we get to this state of division? We could blame the radicalization of our universities, the degradation of our culture, or the politicization of our everyday lives. We could blame America’s disunity on the breakdown of the family, the incivility we see in the news and on social media, or the church’s loss of cultural influence. But it comes down to a simple answer: we have forgotten God.
When people no longer love God, they can no longer love themselves rightly. The equation is simple: When we cease loving God, we cease loving ourselves; when we cease loving ourselves, we cease loving our neighbors. Psalm 9:17 warns that “the nations who forget God” will perish.
On March 30, 1863, after the terrible loss of life at Antietam and the disaster of Fredericksburg during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation appointing a national day of fasting and prayer. Recognizing that nations, as well as individuals, “are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world,” the president wondered whether “the awful calamity of civil war . . . may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins.”
What did Lincoln identify as the national sin at that time?
We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
What was true in 1863 is still true today—as a nation, America has forgotten God. Prayer may be the only activity, in the words of Lincoln, that can “nobly save...the last best, hope of earth.” We must heed the wisdom of the phrase first inscribed on US coins in 1864 under President Lincoln, legally adopted by Congress in 1956, and reaffirmed in recent years as America’s official national motto—“In God We Trust.”
We obviously need to advocate for just laws, vote for ethical politicians who will uphold the Constitution, defend the rights of the preborn, and guard our families against moral corruption, among other things. But to do these things without asking God to attend to our work is foolish because it cuts us off from the greatest power in the universe.
James 5:16 says that the prayer of a righteous person releases God’s power. So when we pray about the issues that affect our lives, we influence the fate of our families, our churches, and our nation. It has happened before in history, and it can happen again.
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray in Matthew 6:5–13, He made it clear that the purpose of prayer is not to get our will done in heaven but to get God’s will done on earth. And if ever there was a time when we needed God’s will done in America, that time is now.
President Trump has proclaimed Thursday as a National Day of Prayer. As millions of Americans from all socioeconomic, ethnic, and political backgrounds pause to confess our sins and acknowledge our need for God, won’t you join me in praying intently for the nation that we love?