With the approach of this Independence Day, in spite of the many distractions and interruptions that are accompanying the lead-up to it, I’ve been thinking about how this holiday is rife with symbolism. Although many other examples exist, I’ve chosen to focus briefly on five that seem to carry special significance and meaning for me. At the same time that I’m proud of these symbols, I’m also disheartened by the seeming increase in people’s ignorance of them and what makes them important to our national and individual freedoms.
First, of course, is the document that declared our independence in the first place, the Declaration of Independence. Although many people can recite many of the phrases in the second paragraph, a lot of people don’t know what the opening paragraph and the rest of the document says, let alone understand the few phrases that they seemingly know. “We hold these truths. . . .” The truths that follow are the foundation of the rest of the document. “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . . . among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” This was the second time that the document mentioned God, the Author of our rights and entitlements. The document goes on to state the purpose and source of human government, which is to be a servant of the people, not their master. It also enumerates the colonists’ various grievances against the king and declares the reasons why they were declaring their independence from his rule. It would do us all good to read the entire document again carefully so that we will gain an appreciation for not only what the document means but also what the Founders risked to achieve our independence.
Second is Independence Hall. That building has a double meaning for me. It’s primary symbolism, of course, is political. But it’s also personal in my memory. The first time I toured the building was the day before my wedding. My groomsmen and I had driven to Philadelphia to pick up another groomsman from the airport, and we all decided to take a detour to Independence Hall on the way back. It was a hot and humid day. I was sleep deprived and anxious about the wedding and honeymoon details. I had not eaten good breakfast, it was well into the afternoon, and I had had neither lunch nor fluids, so I was getting severely dehydrated. I was standing in the Assembly Hall, intently trying to focus on what the National Park Service member was saying, when I suddenly found myself sitting on the step in front of the building. My groomsmen had caught me before I hit the floor in the Assembly Room and supported me out to the step and into the “cool” air. A drink of water and some lunch revived me, but I’ll forever know firsthand how many of the delegates meeting in that sweltering room in early July 1776 must have felt as they accepted Jefferson’s masterpiece.
Then there is the Liberty Bell. Too often, we forget (or did we even know) that this hunk of finely crafted metal has engraved on its upper portion the words of Scripture: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land.” Most people who do know that those words are there think that they refer to political liberty, but they are actually referring to spiritual liberty. Scripture also states, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Again, those words refer to spiritual truth, the gospel story. But the enemies of freedom are also the enemies of the Bible, from which those words come, and of Christianity because they know that spiritual liberty leads to political liberty. If they can enslave people spiritually and keep them spiritually ignorant, they know they will also be able to enslave them politically. When a nation forgets God, it will soon become enslaved to political dictators.
And there’s the Minuteman Statue in Massachusetts. It symbolizes the many men who were ready “at a minute’s notice” to come to the aid of the cause of liberty. And not just ready to fight but also to die, if necessary, that their posterity–we–could enjoy the blessings of freedom and liberty. I must ask myself how ready I will be if the need arises to defend freedom. How much would I be willing to sacrifice? At the very least, I must be eternally vigilant because the enemies of freedom are ever-present with us, perhaps never more than in the present day. Freedom is never free. As the slogan says, we are the land of the free because of the brave.
Finally, there are the fireworks, perhaps the single most used symbol on Independence Day now. Although many people have forgotten the content and meaning of the Declaration, and to many people the statues and emblems and symbols are merely relics, we all love a beautiful fireworks display on the Fourth of July. John Adams declared that the day should be marked by such fireworks displays, but I think that he would rather have people celebrating the meaning rather than the mere display. My family has traditionally set off fireworks every Fourth, and those performances have tended to grow larger every year, especially as sons-in-law have desired to add their funds to increase the boom and the beauty. But we should remember that we can enjoy the beauty of fireworks only because earlier generations suffered and endured the blasts of cannons and “bombs bursting in air” in a much more deadly way. But it was for the Cause, and we enjoy the fireworks today because of their sacrifice in wounds and death back then.
Take some time to reread the Declaration of Independence this Fourth of July, and remind yourself of why we’re celebrating. And then thank God that you were born and can live in a country that affords us such freedom as our forefathers gave us. And why.