"When in the Course of Human Events..."
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It’s a muggy and sultry afternoon as I sit down to write this article. The feel of the air and the time of month take me far back to a long-ago summer when others gathered to write in these same last weeks of June.
In the sweltering heat of colonial Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman were crafting a document that would revolutionize Americans’ social contract with one another. It would come to be known as the Declaration of Independence. How important was its message? Abraham Lincoln would later call it the “sheet anchor” of all American liberties. Its theme? Freedom!
America’s republican experiment exploded on the world stage in that summer of 1776, but it had been simmering over a decade, as the British crown, parliament and the colonials could not agree on the colonies’ future. But events didn’t just hit a flash point on July Fourth. Freedom never simply just happens. It has to be envisioned, considered and, yes, at times given birth through great sacrifice. Before one can reach a destination, the course must be laid out.
As the time of full fruition had now come, the chief drafter, Thomas Jefferson, would throw down the gauntlet in penning the now-famous words, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary…” The founders of the republic would securely wrap themselves in the rightness of their cause by affirming their position and timing in relationship with the “laws of Nature and Nature’s God.”
Proclaiming liberty throughout the land
But is such a phrase now lost to history? Have you considered when else in the course of human events it will become necessary for an even greater revolution to occur? Consider what we find on another piece of iconic Americana that was used to summon the citizenry of Philadelphia to hear the first public reading of this revolutionary document on July 8, 1776.
Engraved on the Liberty Bell is the inscription, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants.” While the bell no longer rings, these words yet speak of a liberty in the making, a course of events still to come.
Let’s understand the significance of the context of these words, taken from Leviticus 25:10. The following verse deals with what the Bible refers to as the “Jubilee.” This was declared every 50 years on the biblical Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). In the Jubilee year, families that had lost their land had it returned; people who had become indentured servants due to economic conditions were released; debts in general were forgiven.
Talk about a revolution in living! Imagine a brand-new start. Indeed, it was a chance to have a brand-new future without being chained to a past full of mistakes. Yet the Jubilee was not an end in itself, for God used the covenant people of Israel to point to an even greater time of liberation that He had in mind.
To set at liberty those who are oppressed
The thought of Jubilee is not simply an Old Testament concept. Jesus further demonstrated this future focus of Jubilee. “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD” (Luke 4:18-19).
Yes, the Jesus of the manger and the cross is returning as the literal King of Kings and Lord of Lords over this earth.
To understand the prophetic impact of His words, we must couple them with the words of the Song of Mary. After the angel told her about giving birth to the prophesied Messiah, she declared: “For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty” (Luke 1:49-53).
This song of exultation echoes the words of Isaiah, when the prophet describes a world in which “every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:4-5).
More than simply a miraculous re-altering of the surface of the earth, the word “mountain” is used to convey nations, kingdoms, power and authority. This is directly speaking of the total collapse of human society and God’s reordering of civilization from top to bottom. These passages define a revolution that is on its way—a revolution advanced by none other than God.
The “when” of timing is essential
Jesus’ first visit to this earth in human form certainly conveys the urgency of “when in the course of human events it becomes necessary…,” for indeed humanity needed a way to spiritual salvation. In fact, it’s interesting how the apostle Paul conveys the special timing: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4).
“When” did Christ come? When the Greek tongue was widely spoken, when Roman roads made travel easier and when Jewish synagogues were dispersed throughout the empire—all factors that allowed the rapid spread of the gospel.
However, Jesus’ first coming did not accomplish the transformation of humanity that the prophecies foretold. The human condition shows this to us plainly, with today’s North Korean missile launches, anti-Semitic rhetoric coming out of Tehran, butchery in Baghdad and the human hopelessness of Darfur.
Are the words of Jesus, Mary and Isaiah just lost in the wind, or is there yet one more dynamic convergence of time when “in the course of human events it becomes necessary” for actions that will alter all human history—not merely for 230 years, but forever?
Imagine a world that is going to be free to start over, free to make good choices, free to fully understand, embrace and experience God’s great love for His creation.
Matthew’s Gospel speaks of the time in which God must forcibly stop man’s inhumanity to man, if the human race is to exist for even one more day. Christ is the speaker: “Unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:22). The Creator of time is also the master of timing, and He is going to intervene to save humanity from itself. If He intervenes too soon, an unappreciative humanity would decry Him as unfair, claiming they could have handled their own problems. If He comes too late—well, there is nothing left to save.
Yes, the Jesus of the manger and the cross is returning as the literal King of Kings and Lord of Lords over this earth and its by then abolished political systems that proved incapable of governing. Talk about a revolution. But not in the historical sense—from below—but from above!
And then, God is going to proclaim liberty to all the world’s inhabitants in the fullest application of Jubilee. Imagine a world that is going to be free from the spiritual tyranny of Satan, free from selfishness, free from sin, free to start over, free to make good choices, free to fully understand, embrace and experience God’s great love for His creation. Just imagine the collective sigh of relief that will reverberate across the heavens as spiritual, mental and emotion burdens are lifted off the backs and hearts of humanity.
God reveals this moment through Paul: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:18-22).
Sounds like a time of Jubilee, doesn’t it?
Freedom comes with a price
But none of this comes cheaply. Freedom always demands sacrifice. God gave His only Son that we might have a way back to Him (John 3:16). This price is precious beyond comprehension. Notice in the above passage from Romans that God says believers would suffer in this present age. So suffering is not a stranger to the Christian experience. We need a clear vision of our purpose and our potential, lest the suffering overwhelm us.
Ask yourself, Is the prophesied freedom, instant and forever, worth it? Your answer will determine how you will “walk the walk” the remainder of your days.
Funny, I haven’t even thought about how hot this June day is for the last couple of hours. Maybe there is a lesson here. When your mind is on big things, all the little things just seem to melt away, leaving us a clear view of what is truly important.
I wonder if Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Livingston and Sherman had the same experience as they toiled away at explaining in detail how “in the course of human events it becomes necessary” to do what they were about to do. Did they have a vision that would match their values, and thus allow them to deal with all that was about to befall them? We find their answer in their concluding lines.
Enter with me into that room in Philadelphia of old and look over their shoulders as they, one by one, apply their affirming signatures under these words: “And for the support of this declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Their words also echo God's freedom directive of Isaiah 30:21, “This is the way, walk in it.” It is “the way” of sacrifice based upon an understanding that freedom does not come cheaply, whether for temporal gains or spiritual causes.