So far, I have avoided political discussion in this blog while still trying to discuss matters of theology in the public square. Recently, though, I have seen a number of political comments that refer to the founding documents of the United States as “inspired.” This includes the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (but apparently not the Articles of Confederation). I admit that I am puzzled by this, not sure what is meant by “inspired” in this context. The analytical side of my brain (which I too often neglect) has pushed me to analyze this trend. What does a politician mean when he says he believes the Constitution of the United States is “inspired” or “divinely inspired?” I can think of three ways to interpret this:
First, he may mean that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are brilliant documents, among the greatest of human achievements. This would be using “inspired” in the same way that Shakespeare affectionados refer to their bard as “inspired.” An English teacher I once had taught Shakespeare as the epitome and authority for the English language. Whatever Shakespeare wrote was correct and perfect, and it could not be improved upon. But this teacher was a Christian and did not confuse the grand expressions of Shakespeare with Scripture as an authority for her life. So maybe we can speak of the Constitution as “inspired” as a hyperbolic way of saying it is the finest political document in human history.
Second, maybe he means the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are “inspired” in the sense of being providential. This would hold that God acted in history in a special and specific way to help the framers produce a document that while imperfect, met the needs of its day according to a divine plan. This would imply that the founding of the United States was somehow orchestrated by God and according to his will. If this is accepted, following the basic principles of the Constitution would be treading a God-ordained pathway, and should not be dismissed lightly.
Third, I think some who refer to the Constitution as “inspired” actually mean that God guided the hands of the authors and its words are the Word of God. Thus it becomes some type of addendum to the Bible, and guides us both politically and spiritually. To violate the Constitution or change its original intent would bring a curse from God something like the curse promised at the end of the book of Revelation (22:18, 19).
I recently became aware (by watching The Colbert Report) of a popular artist named Jon McNaughton who has expressed the idea of the U.S. Constitution as “inspired” in visual form. McNaughton has combined brushstrokes with digital magic in his creation “One Nation Under God” which is really a remarkable work. It pictures a gold-robed Jesus holding a copy of the Constitution in his right hand surrounded by various characters. Behind Jesus are such folk as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, and Theodore Roosevelt, supposedly those from the past who support Jesus as the one pointing to and upholding this document. In the left corner are people of the present who look to Jesus and the Constitution with rapt attention and anticipation. This salt-of-the-earth group includes a Christian Minister, a Farmer, a Family Doctor, a Mother, and a U.S. Marine holding a folded U.S. flag. The Mother has released her son to break away and come to Jesus and the Constitution (although the son is more interested in the Constitution than in Jesus). In the right corner are a group of folks turning away from Jesus and the Constitution, either in disgust, pride, or anguish. This group of misguided souls includes a Supreme Court Justice (weeping), a Politician (on his cell phone), a female Liberal News Reporter (with a microphone looking for an interview), and “Mr. Hollywood” (who has turned away from Jesus and stand with a smug look on his face and his arms crossed). The last guy, “Mr. Hollywood,” looks vaguely like Alec Baldwin to me. The shadowy leader of this group is none other than Satan. The viewer may identify each of these characters by hovering over them with a mouse cursor, which produces an identifying sidebar with commentary.
I guess if we have Jesus pointing to the Constitution, the artist wants us to think it is “inspired” in the way of my third category above. But the painting is full of contradictions. For example, one of the members of the crowd of supportive forefathers is Thomas Paine, the strident atheist of his generation. Paine may have loved the Constitution, but he would have abhorred connecting it to Jesus. The sidebar comment from McNaughton is, “It is not important that he was not a Christian. God often uses good men to fulfill his purposes.”
I’m still pondering all of this. I consider myself to be a loyal, patriotic American. I try to vote in every election. I have great respect for the Constitution of the United States. But I don’t think it is inspired in any of the three ways I have listed except #1. I don’t think the authors of the Constitution thought it was inspired. This is evidenced by the fact it contains a mechanism for correction, the amendment process The original Constitution had the ten amendments we call the “Bill of Rights,” and it has been amended seventeen more times since then. This would not be necessary if the Constitution were “inspired” in a biblical way. So I don’t think it should be equated with Scripture in any way.
Nebraska Christian College (but not speaking for the college today)