"Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants."
- William Penn
In the days of yore in America, US coins all bore the face or form of Lady Liberty. Even the Indian Head Cent and the "Mercury" Dime show Liberty's profile; she's just wearing a new hat in each one. During the Civil War, though, there was a rise in religious sentiment. Many Americans were concerned that if the country were torn to pieces, future generations would think the United States had worshipped the goddess Liberty and so honored her on all its coins. Letters were written. Congress was petitioned. Finally, on April 11, 1864, Congress authorized the coinage of the two-cent piece on which the new motto "In God We Trust" first appeared.
Over 90 years later, on July 11, 1955, Congress mandated that "In God We Trust" appear on all US currency. The phrase was actively in use on all US coins by then, and Congress made sure it would stay that way. In light of the Cold War and the fact that America's primary enemy was an atheistic state, Charles Edward Bennett told the House of Representatives,
"In these days when imperialistic and materialistic Communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom, it is proper [to] remind all of us of this self-evident truth [that] as long as this country trusts in God, it will prevail."
The next year, on July 30, 1956, President Eisenhower signed a joint resolution of Congress making "In God We Trust" the United States' national motto.
Why is it important that the United States trust in God?
The word "god" is, of course, pretty general. One can find a wide variety of definitions for the word among American theists. But, for the Christian, God is not only the powerful Creator of the universe, but the Savior and Lover of our souls. And not only does He love us, but the God of the Bible is vastly interested in the course of human events. As Israel trusted in God, things went well for the people, and as they turned away from God and trusted in idols, things went badly. God repeatedly rescued Israel out of seriously tight spots when the people trusted Him. We trust in God because we recognize that:
There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy;
- Psalm 33:16-18
Yet, God does not concern himself solely with Israel, but with all the nations of the world. The founders of American government believed that. A majority of the signers of the Constitution were Christian men who recognized that freedom was a God-granted gift.
According to Donald S. Lutz in his book The Origins of American Constitutionalism, the leaders of the Revolution and framers of the US Constitution quoted William Blackstone, John Locke, and Charles Secondat de Montesquieu quite significantly. These three men had a massive influence on the formation of American government. Quotes from the Bible, though, outnumbered all the quotes from these men combined. Of 3154 citations from the 1760's - 1805, a full 34 percent were from the Bible. Montesquieu came in second with 8.3 percent of the quotes. It's also important to note 7.9 percent of the quotes were from the great jurist William Blackstone, whose Commentaries depended on the God of the Bible as the true Giver of law and the One on whom all human law should be based.
"In God We Trust" would have been an appropriate motto for the men who started our nation. It applied to those who turned to God during times of great crisis, from the Civil War to the Cold War. And as we face troubles from high gas prices to global terrorism, we need to continue to trust in God. He is the source of our safety. He is the source of our provision. He is the one who alone can truly bless our nation.
Our job is to make our national motto true - to be a people who make God, and not our money, our refuge. Just as important, we need to be a people whom God can bless; to be a people who - as the psalmist said - fear God (which is reflected in the way we live our lives) and who hope in His mercy.
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. - Psalm 20:7