What we call the American Dream is fading into the distant sunset. The relatively few encouraging signs—such as the shale oil and gas bonanza—are being overshadowed by many disturbing trends in the opposite direction.
Why is this great nation, with seemingly so much promise for the future, heading inexorably into a box canyon of so many sorrows with no apparent way out? Are we ourselves as a people the basic cause by the way we are currently conducting our lives?
A serious sign of decline
Many citizens vaguely realize that our massive debt difficulties lie at the heart of our present national plight. Several years ago Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, observed:
"The U.S. savings rate is zero; the current account deficit, the trade deficit and the budget deficit are high; the median income is flat; and commitments for entitlements are unsustainable" ("The Future of American Power," Foreign Affairs, May-June 2008, p. 29).
Since then matters have worsened. British author Edward Luce stated of the years 2009 to 2011: "Median household income fell during that period by an astonishing 6.7 percent" (Time to Start Thinking: America and the Spectre of Decline, 2012, p. 272).
Two other authors jointly warned of tough days ahead if we don't mend our financial habits soon: "The United States is fast approaching a historic turning point; either it will act to get its fiscal house in order, thereby restoring the prerequisites of its primacy in the world, or it will fail to do so and suffer both the domestic and international consequences" (Roger Altman and Richard Haass,"American Profligacy and American Power," Foreign Affairs, November-December 2010).
Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski stated that our flawed financial framework "is a systemic time bomb that threatens not only the American but also the global economy because of its risky and self-aggrandizing behavior" (Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power, 2012, p. 47, emphasis added throughout).
As if to emphasize the point, in mid-June The Washington Post reported: "The recent recession wiped out nearly two decades of Americans' wealth, according to government data released Monday, with -middle-class families bearing the brunt of the decline. The Federal Reserve said the median net worth of families plunged by 39 percent in just three years, from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010. That puts Americans roughly on par with where they were in 1992" (Ylan Mui, "Americans Saw Wealth Plummet 40 Percent From 2007 to 2010, Federal Reserve Says," June 11, 2012).
America's standing in the world
In his second inaugural speech in January 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton proudly stated, "At the dawn of the 21st century . . . America stands alone as the world's indispensable nation" (quoted by Brzezinski, p. 44).
In August 2000 the next president George W. Bush added, "Our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model for the world" (ibid.). How accurate when we truly understand its biblical legacy and historic role! But more about that later.
Twelve years have whipped by since. How is America doing now? Many people of other nations still want to leave their ancestral homes, immigrate to America and eventually become U.S. citizens. They still believe that America is "the land of the free" as well as "the land of opportunity."
And truly all Americans should thank God regularly not only for the astounding national blessings He has bestowed on the country, but also for His merciful patience as the nation continues to seriously neglect facing and dealing with its enormous challenges and obvious shortcomings.
You may recall German Chancellor Angela Merkel's address to a combined session of the U.S. Congress in November 2009. She talked of her "'passionate' commitment to 'the American dream'" (p. 45). This now de facto leader of Europe pointed out how the United States provides "the opportunity for everyone to be successful, to make it in life through their personal effort" (ibid.).
But the gap between perception and reality grows wider by the day. Increasingly America has lost its number-one status in the world in many different fields. Several Asian nations in the Far East have already passed America or are fast catching up in many categories of endeavor—China and India in particular.
The surprising genesis of American freedoms
Even America's matchless freedoms are now seriously threatened by an ever-encroaching federal government—presently attaching more and more socialist, regulatory and bureaucratic impediments to the nation's free enterprise system, engine of its economic growth.
But to truly understand the legacy of these hard-won freedoms and gain a better handle on some of the factors behind our current national afflictions, we must momentarily reach back into ancient biblical history.
The great prophet and judge Moses strongly advised the ancient Israelites: "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations. Ask your father and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you . . ." (Deuteronomy 32:7). What was his point? That understanding history is supremely important. We must learn from it to avoid repeating past mistakes.
How much truer today! If we are to truly grasp the significance of America's legacy, knowledge and understanding of even the nation's distant past becomes absolutely essential.
America's history doesn't begin with the Declaration of Independence, or the War for Independence, or the landing at Plymouth Rock, or the establishment of the first colonies in the New World. Its history really begins much earlier—in the book of Genesis with the call of Abraham.
It extends through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob through to Jacob's son Joseph, who had two sons named Ephraim and Manasseh. The descendants of the latter would migrate to America from Britain. The major elements of this fascinating story are told in our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy, with abundant evidence from both God's Word and secular history.
The patriarch Jacob foretold of his son's progeny in Genesis 49:22: "Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well. His branches run over the wall." Verses 23 through 26 relate more about these manifold divine "blessings of heaven," as does Moses in Deuteronomy 33:13-17.
The patriarch Joseph's example
Joseph, one of the 12 sons of Jacob (or Israel, as Jacob was renamed), exceeded his 11 brothers in both character and leadership.
During his 13 years of captivity and slavery, Joseph learned to rely on God and remain faithful to Him through trying circumstances, including rejecting the sexual advances of his master's wife. Afterward he became, in effect, the prime minister or governor of Egypt, managing its governmental and commercial affairs with great diligence, skill and competence.
He had overcome the effects of the loss of his mother Rachel in early youth. Joseph also forgave the great sin of his brothers, who sold him into slavery and deceived their father as to what had really happened.
Even without realizing their ancient roots, many of his descendants followed Joseph's basic example of obedience and industriousness, leading to the birth and growth of a strong, Bible-based nation. But in recent years much has changed. If our peoples only knew that Joseph was their great ancestor, hopefully that fact alone would sober and help turn them from their embarrassing profligacy towards righteous and productive lives.
American knowledge in a broad range of fields has grown beyond all expectations, particularly scientific and technological prowess. We have sent men to the moon and unmanned spacecraft to the outer edges of our solar system and beyond, but as a nation we are ignorant of the most basic historic and spiritual truths that could help deliver us out of our great problems. This country desperately needs that crucial knowledge of our biblical roots—where we came from and where we are surely headed.
American dominance under serious threat
Can the United States accommodate a restless world that is rapidly gaining on previously unchallenged American preeminence? The United States has successfully exported its brand of capitalism to many other countries. It has served as a business model for aspiring nations. Now they are catching up with and passing us.
Fareed Zakaria warns that America may be forced to "watch as the rise of the rest produces greater nationalism, diffusion and disintegration, which will slowly tear apart the world order that the United States has built over the last 60 years" (p. 43).
Since World War II, America has both guided and policed the world in general. This is the legacy of its great ancestor Joseph. But now its growing economic problems are undermining American power and prestige throughout the world, forcing America to increasingly abandon this vital role.
What would the world be like without U.S leadership? Some observers are rightly worried about the possibility of a post-American scramble for power and influence.
Will some other coming superpower step into the gap and behave as altruistically as Britain and America have conducted themselves in their turn, acting to keep the peace in a world that otherwise might resemble a global Wild West?
Consider how the United States and Britain defeated German militarism in World War I and Nazism in World War II and stalled the march of communism in the 1950s and 60s. More recently they have expended enormous treasure and lives in battling against terror and militant Islam, also helping topple such dictators as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.
Who would step in to take America's place as the dominant world power? Would it be China? Russia? Could it possibly be a European superstate that many believe will never see the light of day, having forgotten European history during the last 2,000 years?
In fact, Bible prophecy does tell us that a ruthless European-centered dictatorship will yet appear on the world stage that will even challenge the authority of God Himself.
This is but one reason why the decline of the United States should be of great concern to every person who takes the Bible seriously. For it would mean a very dark future for humanity around the globe.