Thinking In Public

July 22, 2020

God Shed His Grace on Thee: A Conversation with Michael Medved about the American Story

Transcript

Albert Mohler:

This is Thinking in Public, a program dedicated to intelligent conversation about frontline theological and cultural issues with the people who are shaping them. I'm Albert Mohler, your host and president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Michael Medved has hosted the Michael Medved Show, a national radio program devoted to cultural and political analysis. At age 16, he attended Yale University, followed by Yale Law School. After that, he entered the political arena as a speech writer and campaign consultant. He has been well known to Americans, hosting a show on CNN, co-hosting the program Sneak Previews for 12 years, beginning in 1984. He's the author of bestselling books, including What Really Happened to the Class of '65. At age 26, he wrote the book, and it became a national bestseller. Since then, he has authored 12 additional books, dozens of articles and op-eds, hundreds of film reviews for magazines and newspapers, such as USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.He served as chief film critic for the New York Post for years. His two most recent books, The American Miracle and God's Hand on America are the topic of our conversation today.

Michael, you have been thinking, speaking, and writing now for decades. One of the most verbal lives, I think it's safe to say, of our times. You produce bestselling books, massive radio influence, and yet I also know you as friend. I am fascinated by the way you think and you share in these two new books, especially, The American Miracle: Divine Providence in the Rise of the Republic and God's Hand on America: Divine Providence in the Modern Era. This is clearly the culmination of some thinking that has been going on for a long time. First of all, welcome and tell us about that.

Michael Medved:

Sure. Again, I have for a very long time, as you mentioned, been obsessed with the need for gratitude toward the United States of America and ultimately toward God. I think one of the problems that we have had in this country, and it's something that you write about in The Gathering Storm, is that if gratitude is due but you don't pay that debt and you don't express that gratitude, then that's one of the worst traits a human being can have. In King Lear he says, "Oh, how sharper than a serpent's tooth is ingratitude." The difficulty here is that so many Americans have forgotten who it is we're supposed to thank. It's one of those things where my becoming conservative, having grown up, not as a red diaper baby or a leftist, but as sort of a standard American Stevensonian liberal, that's where my parents were, may they rest in peace, but moving over to being a very proud Reagan Republican. That corresponded for me with becoming much more religious and religiously involved and understanding that all of these good things that we get to celebrate all the time, even in the midst of a pandemic and national chaos, all of those things deserve and require thankfulness not just in a cosmic sphere, but for our own personal happiness. If you've been blessed, you're either going to feel gratitude or guilt. Right now, the entire American obsession is to try to impose guilt on every single American. "Oh, we're the worst country ever, and oh, the whole country is built on exploitation and lies and oppression, and oh, we're so terrible." That doesn't help people lead better lives.

Albert Mohler:

Nor is it true. At least it's not true in being the main story. So we have a war of stories right now, and we have open arguments against that kind of gratitude that, as you say, will not help. You carefully distinguish between two ideas. Neither one of them is popular today. Those two ideas are the concept of providence in history and then American exceptionalism. Now, you don't conflate the two. But both of those two ideas you deal with are decidedly out of step with the modern academic culture, let's put it that way.

Michael Medved:

They are. But even the modern academic culture, I think that what people embrace is a form of American exceptionalism because America is so exceptional. Anybody who knows world history understands what Walter McDougall, who's a fine professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania has written, which is the greatest event of the last 500 years of human history has been the emergence of the United States of America. It was unforeseeable. It is illogical. No one could have predicted it or analyzed it, someone looking 500 years ago that the center of civilization would be right here. But here we are. So it's an exceptional development, and you're right that that's the idea of American exceptionalism, which most people concede. But the country is so exceptional that you are going to say that it's either exceptionally great or exceptionally guilty. The entire project of the left right now seems to be saying that all of these things that we enjoy here in the United States and that are uniquely a beneficence, that all of those things are the product of lying and cheating and stealing and oppression. America's either the worst country in the world or the best country in the world. We are so big and so consequential and so different from other countries that it seems to me that you really have to choose one or the other.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. The argument about America being exceptionally tragic is one that is certainly gaining traction. I think it's a part of even what we see in that recent development of The New York Times, where the editorial page editor resigned in the face of younger, more radical employees who clearly were demanding his ouster. It came down to the fact that it's the old liberalism that thought America needed to be reformed and the new liberalism that believes America needs to be rejected. That rejectionist narrative is now becoming... It's not just in academia anymore. I mean, it's on the streets, and it's not just there. You've got the old liberal class trying to catch up with this rejectionist narrative, lest they be forced to resign from their positions. It's an amazing thing to see right now in 2020.

Michael Medved:

It is. I think that talking about America's exceptional status is very important. One of the ways that I think you counter this current narrative of America's unique guilt and horrors and misery is okay, which country, which national society, which example should we follow? Where is there a better place to pursue your dreams, to allow people to create a new life for themselves, to choose the path that they want to take? One of the interesting things here, and this is wildly politically incorrect. But I know it won't discomfort you, Al, is that when you talk about the African diaspora, there were about 12 million people who were kidnapped into slavery and taken really all over the world, including very much to the Islamic world. Of those, 4% came to the United States. In which society have people in the African diaspora fared better than the United States? The answer is none. This is a point that a lot of black conservatives make, and I think it's a powerful point. Our colleague, Larry Elder makes this point, is that if you look at the United States and you look at the 45 million African Americans who live here in this country, that by itself would be the 15th largest economy in the world. It would be one of the G20. That progress has been made in spite of 400 years of slavery and in spite of Jim Crow and oppression. This is one of those things, Al, that I was just thinking of is one of the things that people chant in the BLM movement is, "Say their names, say their names, say their names," and the names are Shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, and of course, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and other people who are the victims of horrible crimes, agreed, they were horrible crimes. But why not say the names of the people who have achieved great and beautiful things in the United States of America, even today, than Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell, and yes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and people who are noted not for victimhood, but for profound achievement, which is a real legacy of the black past?

Albert Mohler:

I think that's an excellent point. I think another issue is that we have lost our theological superstructure for understanding society and a theological vocabulary and a controlling concept such as sin, such that to say that America is exceptional and even exceptional in the best sense, that is to say the land of greatest opportunity, the land of most remarkable influence and liberty and freedom. But at the same time, that's not to say America is guiltless. Because America was established at a time when there was enough theological superstructure that people knew that sin affected everything. I mean, as you've read, I'm sure, and you cite thoroughly, The Federalist Papers, a part of it is just about how to restrain the evil impulses of opportunistic individuals and to instead assure the survival of this experiment in ordered liberty. So many of the people who are just anti-American in this sense somehow seem to hold up the ideal of a guiltless civilization. There is no such thing.

Michael Medved:

No, of course not. Again, I think it's Madison who said, "Were men angels, governments would be unnecessary." In other words-

Albert Mohler:

We're not.

Michael Medved:

...we don't have a senate or a Supreme Court for the heavenly beings. That's not needed. All you need is one supreme ruler. The idea that we live in a fallen world, where there should be one supreme human ruler is antithetical to the American creed. This goes back again.... You know, I begin my show every day and have for the 25 years that I've been doing my show, "In another great day in this greatest nation on God's green earth." Greatest doesn't mean perfect. Greatest means compared to everything else. I know you are, of course, a great devotee, as we all are, of Winston Churchill, having been in your library and seeing a Churchill collection and bust and everything else. Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government ever conceived, except for all those other forms of government that have been tried from time to time.

Albert Mohler:

Exactly. He had a vast experience tragically as he rode astride history with the fact that evil experiments in government were all too tragic and costly. There's just too much at stake. Churchill said in one of his speeches. In his second premiership, he said, "We can just look at the Bolshevik Revolution. We could look at the rise of Nazi Germany, and we can understand that government is not the playground of politicians. It is where life and death, human good and human evil will happen or not happen." So the stakes are really high. You understand that in these books. So I appreciate the fact that you help people to understand what's at stake if events had turned out otherwise.

 

The second idea, the second concept that is woefully out of step that nonetheless I say is absolutely necessary that you've made the very theme of these two books is providence. So this is an even more audacious claim made of the United States of America, and you've made it now with two books, I hope others to follow, and that is that this is not merely a nation. It's a providential nation. There is no explanation for the United States, as it is now, and many crucial turning points in its history but for divine providence.

Michael Medved:

No. What's so amazing to me is that was universally conceded even by American leaders who are not at all conventionally religious, who by the way, had biblical challenges that they like to make. But Jefferson, who of course, spent a large part of his time with a scissors cutting out the parts of the Bible, both Old and New Testament that he didn't like. Jefferson nonetheless, is one of those people who recognized that there was no explanation for the United States. It's in his first inaugural address. There is no explanation, unless you see this as an act of divine will. America is simply too illogical.

Michael Medved:

As we were talking about before, Walter McDougal, who again, I go back to because he's a secular historian, but he ends up at a very religious place. He says, "If you took a time traveler from the year 1,500 and you brought him into the current day, and this time traveler through some miracle.... There are lots of things that he would recognize." France would be this haughty civilization that considered itself superior to everything else. Well, that's still there. You would have an Arab world and an Islamic world that also had all kinds of religious imperatives saying they were the final seal of revelation, yet they were busy killing each other, a Chinese viewpoint, et cetera, et cetera. You could look all around the world. There'd be things that would be recognizable. The one thing that this time traveler from 1,500 would not recognize in the world is the United States in North America, which was sparsely settled. South America had civilizations. North America had tribes. I'm sorry, none of those tribes built major cities or at least major cities that lasted until 1,500. The idea that you would have one country in America that was fed by streams from every continent and every nationality coming to this country and embracing its ideals, and this one country would dominate the world, militarily, economically, politically, culturally, that would be utterly unforeseen. George Washington speaks in his very first inaugural address in 1789. He speaks of the invisible hand that guides the affairs of men. One of the quotes that I love that I know you're aware of it, Al, is Otto von Bismarck, the iron chancellor of Germany...

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely.

Michael Medved:

...said that it is the job of the statesman to listen for God's footsteps in history. Then when you hear them, you grab his coattails and hang on.

Albert Mohler:

You have to go ahead and say what he said about the United States, though.

Michael Medved:

Of course. In a separate quote two years before, he said God has a special protection for lost dogs, idiots, drunkards, small children, and the United States of America.

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely. By the way, I love both of those quotes from Bismarck, and I love the fact that you put both of them in your book. Bismarck was perhaps the first non-English-speaking European to make clear that the new order of the ages is going to mean that every major civilizational fact now has to run through the United States of America. It has to deal with the United of America. Even Bismark, unifying Germany, understood that even German unification was within the context of a world in which Germany would not be the supreme power on the planet, but hoped to be the supreme power in Europe, that it had already reshifted European expectations to that extent. That's a remarkable thing. Very few Americans have a clue of that dimension of our history.

Michael Medved:

Right? Again, it's one of the reasons that it's such a shame that they're striking the statue of Theodore Roosevelt from the American Museum of Natural History. Roosevelt was a historian, on top of everything else. I'm sympathetic to him because he did not inherit great wealth, and the wealth that he did inherit, he squandered on a failed ranch in...

Albert Mohler:

That's right.

Michael Medved:

...North Dakota. But he made his living as a writer, and he wrote 37 books. He wrote three books while he was president of the United States, which is fairly remarkable. You and I both know how hard it is to write books when we're not even president of United States, though you're president of a major university. But T. R. writing about.... His book, The Winning of the West, which is a three-volume series. Now, of course, it's extremely politically incorrect because he thinks it's actually a good thing that the United States exists. Again, one has to come to terms with that. People who talk about the crime of the United States against Native Americans and how hideous it was. Okay. So what's the alternative? What would have happened if the United States had not come into being and through all of these seemingly random happy accidents reached its current prosperity and power? If that had not happened, in what way would humanity, in what way would even the residents of North America have been better off? That's an unanswerable question.

Albert Mohler:

It's a very difficult thing. When you raise it just that way, it comes down to honesty, which is lacking in our historical imagination, which is the fact that conservative patriots ought never to deny the horrors that took place in the conquest of the Native American peoples and the taking of their land. We should never deny that. If we were in charge now, we would not allow events to have unfolded as they did, but honesty compels us that no place in all of human history is it possible to say that vast tracks of uninhabited land claimed by people X or Y were allowed to remain so without the encroachments of civilization. Again, the professors who are making all these arguments about some kind of a purity and utopianism before civilization arrived, they're all sitting in leather chairs and air conditioned offices making these arguments.

Albert Mohler:

There's just a basic dishonesty built in so much of this critique. It's dishonest to deny the evil. It's also dishonest to deny that one way or another, America was going to become a transcontinental nation. If not the United States, then the recent Oxford University series on American history said, "If not the United States, then we would have had new Spain in the middle of the North American continent." And had not the West Coast and your own home state of Washington then a part of Oregon, the question was, is that going to be a part of England or a part of the United States? There was no possibility that it was going to become nothing in terms of a part of the map.

Michael Medved:

Correct. Or some kind of huge nature preserve. That's of course the ultimate, and I know you've written and spoken about that is people like Bill McKibben who suggest how much better things would be if New York City had never been established, if Manhattan had remained an unsettled Island. This is not just anti-American. It's anti-human.

Albert Mohler:

Deeply. Deeply.

Michael Medved:

Again, if you do not believe that human beings are shaped in the image of our creator and that there is a will by that creator for human beings to partner in the work of creation and the work of perfecting and uplifting the world, then you're left with some of these ridiculous ideas that sit there. The one thing I wanted to mention is right now is very current because as we're speaking, there are decided attempts by radicals to tear down a statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park right across from the White House. In fact, they've declared it the Black House Autonomous Zone. Well, not so fast. The point about Andrew Jackson, and this is something I write about is a chapter in my first book about providence, The American Miracle: Divine Providence in the Rise of the Republic. On January 8th, 1815, Jackson, and he was uniquely qualified to do this, and there are very few other military commanders in all of human history who could have achieved what he achieved in New Orleans. That battle prevented the entire middle of the United States and the 15 states ranging from North Dakota and South Dakota, right down through Iowa and Missouri and the rest of them right down to Louisiana. Those all could have been part of Canada because Pakenham, the British general, who was the son-in-law the Duke of Wellington had come with a huge army, and his instructions, which have recently been declassified, they were declassified six years ago, his instructions were to seize all of the territory of the Louisiana purchase that America had purchased, Britain thought illegally, from France and to take that territory and append it to Canada as part of British North America. Now, I'm actually most of the time glad that we have Minnesota and North Dakota and South Dakota and the rest as part of the United States.

Albert Mohler:

Well, absolutely. That's an excellent way of making the point. The history is just a question of choices and of decisions and of actions. History could go one direction or the other. You point to so many dimensions of providence. But one I would point to is that if you were to go 100 years before the battle of New Orleans, which you so well described in your book.... And by the way, you're just an outstanding writer. Your narrative ability as a writer is just superb....

Michael Medved:

Thank you.

Albert Mohler:

...as you tell the story. But if you go 100 years before that battle of what we call the War of 1812, if you go back a hundred years before, the question was whether one of three European empires would control that territory. The question was, will it be Britain, or will it be France, or will it be Spain? There was no idea that it could be anything other than those three European empires. By the time Jackson wins that victory, every one of those European empires has come to the conclusion that it has no future in the territory that would become the United States of America. I just have to say as an historian, that is an amazing turn. In 100 years, the longest-lasting, most aggressive European empires all backed off of the United States and understood a new order was coming.

Michael Medved:

By the way, another thing in the new book, God's Hand on America, which is just coming out in paperback in September. In God's Hand on America, I tell the story about a Russian America.

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely.

Michael Medved:

They didn't use to have the term Alaska, but there was Russian American. Russian America, most people don't know extended all the way down to Northern California. The Russians claimed all of that territory down to Russian River, which is just a little bit North of San Francisco. Again, it's Alaska through the Bering Straits, is relatively close to Russia. I remember Sarah Palin could see it from Alaskan territory, not her home, but from Alaskan territory. But the idea that America was able to purchase Alaska, well that idea was based on the survival of William Henry Seward, who by all rights, absolutely should have died on the night of April 15th, 1865 when Lincoln was shot. Because part of the conspiracy to kill Lincoln involved a very serious murder attempt on Seward, where Lewis Payne broke into his house and stabbed him seven times. Now, here's the amazing story, is that nine days before that stabbing, Seward had a carriage accident. So he had a metal plate covering his throat that was tied to his throat with canvas. Payne, who was stabbing him, kept stabbing against the metal plate, not severing his jugular vein as he had intended. One thing on which historians are unanimous. Without Secretary Seward, who was Secretary of State of the United States, and his determination to add Russian America, all of it, to what he viewed as the American empire, that without Seward's survival, that doesn't happen.

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely.

Michael Medved:

The whole idea of a carriage accident, a metal plate in exactly the right place and Seward surviving this dire conspiracy that succeeded in taking Lincoln's life, I think can only be viewed as Seward himself viewed it, as providential.

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely. This is the same Seward who very well could have become the Republican nominee for president, instead of Lincoln, and who no one actually thought in the beginning would kind of resigned himself to serving in Lincoln's cabinet, but he did. The two antagonists actually became an incredible team together. So you just look at this, and the poets will call it the vicissitudes of human history. But thankfully, you're not just consigning it to vicissitudes. But this is a sign that there is a providential order to the universe and that we can certainly see it here. In Christian circles, this has become an issue of controversy in history. How do you tell the story of a George Whitefield? Because a generation of younger evangelical historians emerged in the 1970s and '80s and beyond and largely trained by Harry Stout at Yale, where you went to both the undergraduate and the law school, trying to say, "Okay. Let's undo that providential understanding of history. Let's just try to deal with someone like a George Whitefield as an individual on the agenda of history, like any other." Harry Stout wrote actually a biography of Whitefield. The problem with that biography is very interesting. But the problem is you have to ascribe everything to human action alone, and that's not enough to explain a George Whitefield. Even someone like Hume didn't believe that was enough. David Hume, the skeptic, he didn't believe it was enough to explain a George Whitefield, nor did a Benjamin Franklin. Again, not a believer. He didn't believe that human factors alone could explain a George Whitefield. You can't look at the United States of America and say human factors alone can explain this. In your first volume, you begin with what you call "that glorious fourth," the 4th of July of 1826, when both Jefferson and Adams died. It just reminded me of something, as I was looking at this, both of them held to a providential understanding of American history, and they lived it. They knew that other than divine providence, it could not have happened.

Michael Medved:

No, no, that's entirely correct. Just to back up for a moment. You mentioned George Whitefield. One of the stories that I remember best learning at Yale was my professor of colonial history, whose name was Edmund S. Morgan, who was probably the greatest historian of pre-revolutionary America ever. Professor Morgan tells a story about Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield. When Whitefield came to preach in Philadelphia, Franklin wanted to hear him, but he told his friends that, "Look, I will not bring my purse with me." Because apparently, the reputation was that Whitefield with the power of his preaching so deeply moved people that even if they didn't want to, they gave up donations. So Franklin told his friends, I'm going to hear Whitefield, but I will not bring my purse. In any event, in the midst of the preaching, apparently Benjamin Franklin moved to tears and crying abundantly reached in and took out a gold watch and donated that. Which I think goes to some of the seriousness with which Franklin...

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely.

Michael Medved:

...who was religiously unconventional. He was religiously unconventional. But the idea of providence, he said at the Constitutional Convention when he was asking them to pray every day. This story is in The American Miracle. Franklin said, "If a sparrow cannot fall without his notice, can an empire rise without his aid?" And talking about God, of course. This basically is the point. When it comes to Jefferson and Franklin, this is one of the most amazing stories, and I remember being fascinated by this since I was a child because of the 50th anniversary of the United States of America was July 4th, 1826. The founders and the early American leaders being well-schooled in the Bible saw that as a Jubilee, as a yovel in Hebrew, which is part of a jubilee year. They inscribed on the Liberty Bell the proclaimed liberty throughout the land and all the inhabitants thereof, a passage from Leviticus that specifically requires the idea of a jubilee year. So it was considered an amazing thing saying that the two people who were most responsible for the declaration of independence, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote it, and John Adams, the second president of the United States who fought for it, the Atlas of Independence in the Continental Congress, those two people were still alive. In fact, John Adams' son, John Quincy Adams was providentially the president of the United States at the time. They were both too elderly and too ill. John Adams was 90. He was the first president until Hoover to have lived anywhere near that long. Now we have other presidents, Jimmy Carter, and President Reagan and President George H. W. Bush with that kind of longevity. In any event, Adams and Jefferson lived to celebrate the Jubilee year, that 50th anniversary. They sent both of them letters and statements to celebrate. But they both remained at home. When Adams died, it was on the evening of July 4th, just after the fireworks went off. He watched from the bedroom of his home, and then afterward he heard the cannonade of heaven, which was thunderstorms and after the fireworks. Then after that, he passed. Several eyewitnesses were there in the room with him say his last words were, "Liberty is safe. Jefferson still lives." Of course in that era, he had no way of knowing that five hours before on the same day, July 4th, 1826, the exact 50th anniversary of their great handiwork, the Declaration of Independence, both men had died. The odds against that happening have literally been calculated. In other words, two presidents dying on the same day. We've never had that.

Albert Mohler:

Two founding presidents.

Michael Medved:

Yes, and two founding presidents. And that same day is July 4th, and it is the 50th July 4th, not just any July 4th. Daniel Webster gave a great memorial speech, which I quote abundantly about how this was.... Daniel Webster is, again, another religious nonconformist, but a great believer. Webster gave this speech to a packed house in Boston about how this was the final imprimatur, the sign from heaven that our endeavors informing this country were fulfilling a mandate of heaven. That was unquestioned by Lincoln. Frankly, it was unquestioned by Franklin Roosevelt, for goodness’ sake.

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely.

Michael Medved:

Or John Kennedy.

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely.

Michael Medved:

The idea that today, that notion that we are a divine instrument, that is so casually disregarded by contemporary politicians. It seems to me a deep problem.

Albert Mohler:

History, wherever and however it is found, in whatever format, oral, written, narrative, film, history is an argument. It always has been so. It will ever be so. One of the crucial issues is how the argument is made. But more than anything else, it's important for us to recognize whether or not the story is true. What Michael Medved writes about in these two books is the story of American history understood with the necessary category of providence. That's a loaded term these days. But then again, as I've said, history is a loaded term. So these are the kinds of books that should have our attention because they actually represent a form of historical courage to go where many others would dare not go. That's also what makes this conversation with my friend, Michael Medved, all the more interesting.

 

I want to take us to what, in my view, is the greatest demonstration of the necessity of providence as a major worldview understanding. Yet, before going there, I just want to say I'm thrilled by how the facts of history fall within the context of a story of history, and how you tell that story is everything. Again, you tell these stories so well. But I think it's beyond even what we just said here because if you look at it another way, three of the first five presidents of the United States died on the 4th of July, the third being James-

Michael Medved:

They're the only ones who have. Right. They're the only ones who have.

Albert Mohler:

No one says. James Monroe died, I believe on July the 4th of 1831. So that's five years after that 50th 4th of July. It's just incredible. You have three presidents, and as you said, none thereafter. There's got to be some meaning there.

Michael Medved:

Yes. Again, people recognized it at the time because it is such an extraordinary coincidence. I actually quote.... A statistician did a paper on it. He said this would be the equivalent in poker of a drawing a straight flush seven times in a row, which if somebody draws a straight flush seven times in a row, he's cheating. That's the point, by the way. I think that's part of why people react to the United States the way they do. You either say, "Okay, what is God doing here? And what does God expect of us in return for all of these blessings?" Or you say, "Oh, they're cheating. They're cheaters. This can't possibly be." I am in love with another coincidence, which has been very, very dimly noted by most historians, which is that literally on the day through a tremendously providential concatenation of circumstances, that a government clerk named Nicholas Trist negotiated a treaty with Mexico, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which gave America control of California. Literally within the same week, when of course news could not travel, nobody could know it, they discovered gold in California. Had Mexico known, had the Mexican authorities known, that California, which was Mexican territory had this huge motherload of gold, which by the way, played a gigantic role in America's economic power emerging in the 1850s and '60s.

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely.

Michael Medved:

Because we had more gold than anybody else because of California and because of the discovery of gold literally hours after this treaty was, actually, it was hours before, this treaty was signed but long before anyone in Washington or Mexico City had heard about the discovery.

Albert Mohler:

I want to take us to what as an historian and as a theologian I find to be actually the deepest territory of the consideration of divine providence. That's into the horrifying years of the civil war and the singular role of Abraham Lincoln, and not only his role, but his understanding of history. Elton Trueblood, who.... By the way, I wrote my honors thesis on Dr. Trueblood who was perhaps the most famous Quaker theologian of the 20th century. He wrote a book about Abraham Lincoln entitled Abraham Lincoln: Theologian of American Tragedy. Dr. Trueblood helped me as a Quaker. By the way, his best friend was Herbert Hoover. He was a part of the formation of the Hoover Institute. Hoover was a Quaker, of course, the Quaker president. He helped me to understand reading Lincoln, his letters and his speeches, particularly his speeches, particularly the second inaugural address, to understand that Lincoln, who was.... You've used the word unconventional. Let's just use that again. Lincoln's religious life was unconventional. But his understanding of providence is one of the deepest, in the language he used, in the arguments he made, of any theological mind of the modern age. It is to me, still in heart and mind, the toughest territory of American history,, and Lincoln's understanding of providence because he understood it not only as God's actions amongst humanity, amongst human beings, but his moral action that God's providence was moral and that moral providence was mixed. There was not absolute good or absolute evil on either side, and yet both sides in the Civil War would have absolutized their arguments to an idolatrous degree. The Civil War was, as Lincoln understood, the great horrifying bloodletting of a moral crisis. But he firmly believed even as, of course, he was going to die, just a matter of a very short amount of time after the second inaugural, he clearly believed that God was not finished with the United States and that this agony was not for nothing.

Michael Medved:

No, that's entirely true. Again, it was six weeks after the inaugural address that he died. Again, this has been observed. Americans tried to put this out of mind, but the Palm Sunday of 1865 was the day when Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox. That was a Palm Sunday. Then that good Friday was the day that Lincoln was killed. The big question, and I think it's one of the biggest questions and challenges that those of us who believe in divine providence need to answer, which is, how could it be that this great and good man who was so much needed for the process of reconstruction and the trying to deliver the promises of liberty to three million freed slaves, how could he have been taken from the country by a God who had America's long-term benefit in mind? The fascinating thing is Lincoln in the last five years of his life repeatedly referred himself as an instrument of God. That idea of instrumentality, the Hebrew word and biblical word for angel is malakh, which means a messenger. The traditional Jewish understanding, biblical understanding, of what it means when God sends an angel is each angel has one mission. Lincoln's mission, and he understood this was to save the union and to free the slaves. He had accomplished both. Literally within days of the accomplishment of both, he was taken from the scene. What's fascinating is I went back, and there are German theologians, German Lutherans in Pennsylvania who were writing about this in precisely those terms in 1865 and understood that God was sending us a message to complete and continue the work of Abraham Lincoln, which we've been trying imperfectly to do for the last 150 years.

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. As a theologian, I have to say what makes Lincoln so fascinating to me. I read that that work by Elton Trueblood when I was probably 19 years old. Since then, I've just been fascinated with the mind and heart and soul of Lincoln. But Lincoln's understanding of providence in American history was different than anything I know before or since, in that, he understood that God's providence is not only promised, but judgment. So in that second inaugural address, he spoke about the providence of God. But he spoke about the judgment of God, that certain ensure judgment all together righteous. That would be demonstrated in American history. That's why I want to tell some conservatives who have a glib understanding of America and God's providence in America, assume that just means God's blessing. No, it also means God's judgment. A judgment that in one sense makes America all the more necessary, but humbles this nation from the kind of idolatrous pretensions that have marked so many other empires. I'm preaching, Michael, forgive me.

Michael Medved:

No, no. But I think that term, idolatrous pretensions, is exactly right. Again, Lincoln made it clear, and he was the first one to even dare to do that, that this terrible war that claimed 700,000 lives, he made it clear in the second inaugural that he speculated that that would be a punishment for centuries of slavery and evil. He talked about as if for each fall of the lash on the bondsmen, on the slave that would be paid for with blood. Then he quoted the Bible. He quoted scripture. He said that the judgments of the Lord are true. Frederick Douglass, the great former slave, black abolitionist, and great leader of the 19th century apparently said right after the second inaugural address, "That was the greatest sermon I've ever heard."

Albert Mohler:

Well, as a Christian theologian, I have to say it was a sermon, and it's one that it moves me every single time I read it, both because of the context in the foreground and in the context after, including, as you said, his assassination six weeks later. Michael, I hope you'll allow me to digress here just a bit. You've been a dear friend to me for a quarter century, and I'm very thankful for that friendship. We've had the opportunity to be on a phone call just about every Monday of our lives for a quarter century. My life is much richer for it. I want you to know that.

Michael Medved:

Thank you.

Albert Mohler:

In the context of that friendship, I know something about God's providence in your life. So even as we have to close this conversation soon, I just want to say I think about your life, where you are born, the trajectory of your thinking from the time you were at Yale until now in the year 2020. I think about the fact that you were in the Ambassador Hotel when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Your own life marks so many of the signs of providence. How do you feel about that?

Michael Medved:

Well, obviously, I feel that it would be the most profound in gratitude, the most ridiculous denial of the providential role in history to deny it. Two things that I want to mention is all my four grandparents were immigrants to this country. The circumstances of my grandmother coming to this country are particularly astonishing to me. She was the mother of six children, and her husband, my grandfather, Harry Medved came to the United States in 1910 to try to earn enough money for passage across the ocean for his wife, his six children, and his father-in-law because my great grandfather Beryl. He finally sent the money back. In 1914, my grandmother came with all the six kids and her elderly father, and they were riding in the train, and they were going to Bremen, which is where you got.... And from Ukraine, which is where they lived in great, great poverty, horrible poverty. My grandfather was a barrel maker and never, ever in his life made a living. But in any event, when they got to the border of Austria, Hungary, and Russia, they were stopped and taken off the train. World War I had broken out. It was August of 1914, and they had to go all the way back to their village in Ukraine. The amazing thing here is that during the 10 years that followed because they had World War I, they had Revolution, which was bloody, and then they had the Russian Civil War. There was no chance for my grandmother to reunite with her husband who was in Philadelphia waiting, writing, trying to get news. During that time period, five of her six children died, and they died of starvation. They died of disease. Most people don't know this, but before the Holocaust, there were 350,000 Jews, at least, who died in Ukraine, civilians, because of the hardships of war, including my aunts, these five daughters that my grandmother had. She eventually made it to the United States with her only son, my uncle, Moshe, and then reunited with my grandfather. Again, this is family lore, but I actually went back and looked at the ancestry of the birth records, and it's all true. She was 49 when she reunited with my grandfather, and it was tearful, and it was 1924, and she was thrilled. Shortly after she got back to America, she got terribly ill and couldn't keep her food down and had pain. She was told by her neighbors in South Philadelphia that, "Oh, oh, this is probably a tumor." She, being an old country woman with no education, she was very reluctant to see a doctor. She finally went to see a distant relative, Dr. Isaac Moldauer, and she was examined. Then he said, "Sit down. Sit down." He says, "I have something very important to tell you." So she starts crying. She said, "I know I have a tumor. I have a tumor, right?" He says, "No, you have a baby." She said, "It's impossible. I'm 49 years old. I am not in the way of women." Then the doctor says to her, "Your name is Sarah, isn't it?" And it was, and that little miracle baby was my dad, David Medved. His father was 50 when he was born. Now, this is America, land of new life. The idea that my dad could go from the son of a barrel maker who had never attended school of any kind, and my father won the mayor's scholarship and went to Philadelphia public schools. Didn't speak English by the way till he was about six. They spoke Yiddish. My dad went on to the University of Pennsylvania and two master's degrees and a PhD in physics and to my father's amazing career. This is why the providential thing is personal to me. My late father, basically even when I was a little kid and before my father was religious at all, he was religious about America. He took me to Independence Hall, pointed to the Liberty Bell and the biblical words on it. Later in life, my dad spent the last 19 years of his life in Jerusalem, both teaching physics and studying Torah. This nation and the blessings that we all enjoy, they're so completely illogical like this idea of a woman separated from her husband for 10 years, losing five children in Eastern Europe, and then coming to America and having this miracle baby who ends up.... By the way, one of my father's proudest achievements when he was young was when he invested $3,000 and bought a little row house for my grandparents, first home they've actually ever owned. This is full of amazements, which are very, very personal. I could go on. But again, I think one of the things that the people of faith should do is to try to recognize the moments, the turning points in our own lives where God clearly shows not just his beneficence, not just his generosity, but his purpose and try to recognize it.

Albert Mohler:

Michael, thank you so much for sharing that. I am so thankful that you have written these books. By the way, I want all the listeners to read these books. I wanted to have this conversation even in the beginning of the summer of 2020 because I think summer's a great time for a lot of listeners to this program to get both of these books, The American Miracle and God's Hand on America. You'll find them absolutely fascinating anytime of the year. But I think particularly in this summer season may be very encouraging to you, even with the 4th of July coming up, and it'll mean something new to you. But more than that, it has been one of the great privileges of my life to know Michael Medved as friend, and in God's providence in both of our lives, I'm thankful that for a quarter century we've known one another as friend. So Michael, God bless you. Thank you for taking this time to be with us for Thinking in Public.

Michael Medved:

Thank you. Thank you for blessing me with your friendship, your example, and I dare to say the word, wisdom, because that's a word that sort of in a bad light right now, but it has been a consistent contribution from Dr. Al Mohler to my life and to the life of the country.

Albert Mohler:

I really enjoyed that conversation with Michael Medved. Here's one of the issues that comes to my mind, the issue of gratitude came up again and again and again, and for that, I'm grateful. It's good to be reminded of just how appropriate it is to express gratitude. But it's not only appropriate, it's actually a matter of a moral imperative. I appreciated so much how Michael Medved traced the story, not only on the big canvas of the national scene over against the history of the larger world, but in the history of his own family. This sense of gratitude is something that is missing from so many in the current generation, and particularly as it is addressed to gratitude for this nation, for those who have paid such a high price in order that this nation might exist, for those who risked so much and for those in successive generations who have helped to build this republic and this great experiment in ordered liberty. To love this nation and to be grateful for it has never meant to say that it is a perfect experiment. There is no such reality in a fallen world, but it is to say there is a particular gratitude we owe to this nation and to those who've come before and to all of those who populate this nation with us now and have the responsibility for building it into the future for generations yet to come. One central part of that gratitude so well illustrated by Michael Medved in these two books is telling the story and telling the story powerfully, telling the story truthfully, telling the story well.

 

If you enjoyed today's episode of Thinking in Public, you'll be glad to find more than 100 of these conversations at albertmohler.com under the tab, Thinking in Public. For more information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, go to boycecollege.com. Thank you for joining me for Thinking in Public. Until next time, keep thinking. I'm Albert Mohler.

 

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