Ever since Frank Luntz asked Donald Trump whether he’d ever asked for God’s forgiveness at the Family Leadership Summit, and Trump gave the “wrong” answer, people who think they know the “right” answer have been using his faith as an instrument of attack, each for his own purpose.
After a pause during which he seemed seriously to be considering the question, and perhaps struggling with it, Trump responded, “I’m not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right.” Not the words of a theologian perhaps, but neither is it the slick, focus-group-honed response that we’ve come to expect of our politicians.
Most recently, Dr. Ben Carson entered the arena by comparing the depth of Trump’s faith to his own, and finding that Trump was lacking. “By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life and that’s a very big part of who I am. I don’t get that impression with him. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t get that.”
That was on Wednesday, and on Thursday after Trump struck back—predictably and in accordance with his tit-for-tat game strategy—Dr. Carson rightly apologized for throwing the first punch.
There are problems when you attack another for not having enough faith. For one thing, it suggests that you are doing so from a superior spiritual position. But is your attack consistent with your claim to occupying a higher moral plane? And for another, who other than God is entitled to judge whether one man is closer to Him than another? The rest of us might note differences in religiosity and displays of piety, but can we speak for God?
Dr. Carson was quoting from Proverbs 22:4. I favor the similar sentiment in Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts,” possibly because Jews recite this verse every Hanukkah. This holiday commemorates the defeat of the Roman army by a small band of Jews, but the miracle of the oil — where a tiny amount suffices to keep Temple’s menorah going the full week necessary to rededicate it — serves to illustrate that none of man’s great accomplishments are attributable to man alone.
Nevertheless, to witness Donald Trump so publicly struggling with a difficult question that he’d not considered before was something that I found very moving. To me it was a sign of his authenticity. I found a certain eloquence in the child-like simplicity of his answer, and I was touched by it.
In his autobiography, President Jimmy Carter describes how he was interviewed by Admiral Hyman Rickover, when he applied for a highly coveted position aboard Rickover’s nuclear submarine. Asked how he’d stood in his class at the Naval Academy, Carter thought he’d aced the interview with his reply, “Sir, I stood 59th in a class of 820!” But then Rickover asked whether Carter had done his best, and things got interesting.
I started to say, “Yes, sir,” but I remembered who this was and recalled several of the many times at the Academy when I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy, and so forth. I was just human. I finally gulped and said, “No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.” He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview. He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget—or to answer. He said, “Why not?” I sat there for a while, shaken, and then slowly left the room.”
The Admiral was impressed. Carter got the job, and also something to think about. Sometimes, the fact that you are capable of struggling with a question is greater evidence of character than a pat answer.
Dr. Paul Chappell, senior pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church, called upon President Carter’s moment of self-reflection for a theme in one of his Daily in the Word radio broadcasts.
“More important than standing before an Admiral will be standing before Christ one day to give account of our lives. When Christ asks you if you did you best for Him, what will be your honest answer?” Going through “the motions of service,” notes Dr. Chappell, is not the same as doing your best.
As we will all of us be called upon one day to give an account of our lives, it surely behooves each of us to reflect upon how we can deepen our own faith before we question the faith of others.
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