Baylor University history professor Thomas Kidd recently offered a useful reminder of the perspective of Benjamin Franklin, which would be timely for us to consider these days, as a society. Writing about Franklin’s respect for, but personal ambivalence toward, religion, Kidd goes on:
Then came the Revolutionary War. Its weight, along with the shock of victory and independence, made Franklin think that God, in some mysterious way, must be moving in American history. “The longer I live,” he told the delegates in Philadelphia, “the more convincing Proofs I see of this Truth, That God governs in the affairs of men.”
He repeatedly cited verses from the Bible to make his case, quoting Psalm 127: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” Without God’s aid, Franklin contended, the Founding Fathers would “succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel.” At the Revolutionary War’s outset, as he reminded delegates, they had prayed daily, often in that same Philadelphia hall, for divine protection. “And have we now forgotten that powerful friend?”
My own understanding of how this all works is, in essence, that “God governs in the affairs of men” through our decision to follow Him. He wouldn’t look upon the Constitutional Convention and say, “Well, fine. If you’re not going to pray, I’ll turn my back on you.” Rather, the decision to pray or not affected whether the delegates were of unified mind in the direction of goodness, which is God’s hallmark.
The United States has done a great deal of good in the world, albeit with a great deal of darkness mixed in, too. How things might have gone differently for our country and the world had the Constitutional Convention prayed, we cannot know, but we should take as a warning Franklin’s handwritten astonishment that his fellow delegates “thought Prayers unnecessary!”