The three years had taken its toll on the most powerful man in the world as he presented a televised address to the nation. It was July 1979 and America was afflicted with spiraling inflation, an energy crisis, and numerous other pressing international issues. His national popularity ratings hovered at a low 25%. With this backdrop, President Jimmy Carter, addressed the nation from the oval office in the White House.
“The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation. The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.”
President Carter illustrated his speech with communications from demoralized Americans to whom he had spoken or had written to him lamenting their loss of trust and confidence in the United States, wondering if the energy crisis and the resulting economic problems the nation faced were insurmountable. President Carter outlined a bold six-step plan that would set America on a path to energy conservation and independence from foreign suppliers. He called upon all Americans to make sacrifices.
“Little by little we can and we must rebuild our confidence. We can spend until we empty our treasuries, and we may summon all the wonders of science. But we can succeed only if we tap our greatest resources — America’s people, America’s values, and America’s confidence. I have seen the strength of America in the inexhaustible resources of our people. In the days to come, let us renew that strength in the struggle for an energy-secure nation.”
While it was initially favorably received, within a few weeks, national opinion soon turned against the President. Even though President Carter never used the term “national malaise”, it was attached to his speech by his political detractors and opponents and it has been known by this moniker ever since. Did the country really need to be reminded about their problems? As a humorous observation uttered by Jack Nicholson by his character in “As Good As It Gets” states, “I’m drowning here and you’re describing the water!” At the time, I also cynically derided the speech, feeling it echoed this same sentiment.
The bold initiatives that President Carter outlined were ultimately overshadowed by events on the world stage including the Iranian hostage crisis and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. It was an example of a good message superseded by the events of the day. It was not the first time this happened, just ask the prophet Haggai.
Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!
Haggai 1:4-6 (NLT)
The Hebrews had just returned from their exile in Babylon and it was a time of relative peace and prosperity. Haggai reproached his fellow Hebrews with the unpopular message that they were dishonoring God by spending money and time building grand houses for themselves and neglecting the rebuilding of God’s temple. He warned of God’s judgment of famine and drought if they did not obey God’s commands. Haggai’s message was ignored, even reviled, superseded by the events of the day.
Forty years later, I look back at President Carter’s speech from a different perspective. President Carter’s vision is now a reality as America is now a net exporter of refined petroleum products, developing new domestic sources and becoming more energy efficient. However, few are willing to recognize or even admit that President Carter was the first American leader to sound the alarm and raise the clarion call of energy independence. The message was important but the events of the day diverted attention from the urgency.
Sometimes the events of our lives overwhelm our sensibilities and judgment and we may ignore or fail to listen to God speaking to us through prayer and His Word, the Bible. God’s Word does not change; it is the same message four thousand years ago and will be four thousand years from now. We need to be willing to listen and act upon it regardless of the negative social consequences or potential loss of popularity.
God’s Word is the filter that enables us to see the world as it should be, through His eyes and not through ours.
Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.