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FIRST-PERSON: Providence & George W. Bush


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–If you let it, the news these days can really set your nerves on edge:

Osama bin Laden speaks again.

America’s homeland security status is raised to high alert.

Iraqi President Sadaam Hussein continues a game of deception regarding his weapons of mass destruction, further increasing the likelihood of war.

North Korea kicks out U.N. nuclear arms inspectors and brags about violations of agreements requiring its nuclear disarmament.

If you doubt the serious nature of the world situation, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer does not. In a Feb. 13 column, Krauthammer, no right-wing fringe alarmist, notes that weapons of mass destruction have been around less than 100 years of all human history. “A hundred — in the eye of the universe, less than a blink. And yet we already find ourselves on the brink. What are the odds that our species will manage to contain this awful knowledge without self-destruction — not for a billion years or a million or even a thousand, but just through the lifetime of our children?

“Those are the stakes today. Before our very eyes, in a flash, politics has gone cosmic. The question before us is very large and very simple: Can — and will — the civilized part of humanity disarm the barbarians who would use the ultimate knowledge for the ultimate destruction? Within months, we will have a good idea whether the answer is yes or no.”

Now, perhaps like never before, the president needs our prayers.

That thought echoed through my mind all morning on Feb. 13 as I observed the sights and sounds of a presidential visit to Jacksonville, Fla.. At Mayport Naval Station with two massive naval war vessels as his backdrop and thousands of sailors and their families as his audience, I kept thinking what an awesome responsibility George W. Bush carries on his shoulders.

Fighting a worldwide campaign to rid the world of the scourge of terrorism was not on Bush’s agenda (or anyone else’s) when he ran for president. But now, in God’s providence, the war on terror is clearly the defining responsibility and mission of his presidency.

Providence is a recurring theme for our 43rd president. Journalist David Frum notes this in his recently released book, “The Right Man,” which surveys his year as a speechwriter in the first year of Bush’s presidency. A “not especially observant Jew” who admitted to some skepticism about Bush’s mettle before going to work in the White House, Frum repeatedly notes the president’s sense of God’s providence in his life.

In a commencement address at Yale University in May 2001, Bush told the graduates of his alma mater, “When I left here, I didn’t have much in the way of a life plan. I knew some people who thought they did. But it turned out that we were all in for ups and downs, most of them unexpected. Life takes its own turns, makes its own demands, writes its own story. And along the way, we start to realize we are not the author.”

Frum notes, “And that was why Bush was so confident: not because he was arrogant, but because he believed that the future was held in stronger hands than his own.”

Nine days after terrorists struck America, Bush gave a special address to a joint session of Congress. After the speech, Frum recounts that the president called the home of his chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson (who Frum describes as a strong evangelical Christian), to thank him for his work on the widely hailed speech.

Gerson told Bush, “Mr. President, when I saw you on television, I thought-God wanted you there.” Frum notes Bush’s reply: “He wants us all here, Gerson.”

Near the first anniversary of 9/11, Frum writes, Bush invited five religious leaders to meet with him in the Oval Office to request their prayers. According to Frum, Bush said, “You know I had a drinking problem. Right now I should be in a bar in Texas, not the Oval Office. There is only one reason that I am in the Oval Office and not in that bar. I found faith. I found God. I am here because of the power of prayer.”

Frum concludes, “There is nothing divine about American political process. Yet leadership remains the greatest mystery in politics. George W. Bush was hardly the obvious man for the job. But by a very strange fate, he turned out to be, of all unlikely things, the right man.”

Clearly, however, Bush understands that “strange fate,” as the hand of God.

I’m not easily impressed when it comes to the religious practices of politicians. I worked on Capitol Hill for eight years and saw my share of charlatans and manipulators of religious leaders. George W. Bush, of course, is not perfect. I do not agree with every policy position he has taken nor everything he says (including his repeated claims that Islam is a “religion of peace”). Further, just because God’s hand of providence is at work in his life does not mean that God blesses everything Bush says or does.

Nevertheless, in the midst of mounting concern about “barbarians who would use the ultimate knowledge for the ultimate destruction” and impending military action against Iraq, I take comfort in the providence of God, as well as the fact that a president who also embraces God’s providence leads our nation.

As he carries this incredible burden of leadership, let’s remember to pray for the president.
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James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

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  • James A. Smith Sr.