The Second Continental Congress, acting as the national government of what was soon to become these United States, met in Baltimore from December 1776 until February 1777. During this time, Baltimore was the largest seaport through which most of the young country’s imports and exports moved. It wasn’t until the 1830s that New York supplanted Baltimore.
What was responsible for New York replacing Baltimore as the largest trading city in the country? In my view it was nothing but a great big ditch about forty feet wide and four feet deep that stretched 363 miles from Albany on the Hudson River to Buffalo on Lake Erie.
It was the largest, most daunting and most expensive engineering project imaginable. Tens of thousands of men dug it with their picks and shovels. The earth was moved by horses pulling primitive equipment. The Erie Canal took eight grueling years of men relentlessly driving through limestone mountains and cutting through dense forest. Rocks and tree stumps were blown up with black powder since dynamite would not be invented for another forty years. It rose 600 feet from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes necessitating the construction of 48 magnificent stone locks to raise and lower boats.
The canal was completed in 1825 and began carrying passengers and cargo across New York State at a fraction of the cost of wagons. The economy of New York grew meteorically as it rapidly became the busiest seaport in the country.
Though the Erie Canal was the defining engineering project of the 19th century, it was not the end but the beginning of grand projects in America. Railroads quickly followed. The 20th century saw great bridges like the Golden Gate, the George Washington, and the Verrazano. That century saw Americans building the world’s tallest buildings, the biggest dams, and the finest Interstate Highway system in the world.
Then America started sliding down the sordid slope of secularism. Grand construction ceased. Is this a coincidence? I don’t think so.
Consider these two conflicting verses written by King David:
…the earth and all that fills it is the Lord’s…
The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; but He has given the earth to humans.
Well, which is it? The earth and all in it belong to God or else He gave the earth to humans. Either the earth is His or it is ours. It can’t be both.
Or can it? Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that King David was not inconsistent nor did he write Psalm 115 after forgetting what he wrote in Psalm 24. He was illuminating a timeless truth vitally necessary for understanding how the world REALLY works.
King David was explaining that to begin with, the entire earth and all it contains belongs to God. However, if we, His children, trust Him, bless and thank Him, then he gives the earth to us. Deep down, within the hidden recesses of our collective cultural souls, we recognize that if our relationship with God is strong and loving, we have a right to the earth. We have a right to carve canals through its forests and mountains; we have a right to throw bridges across its gorges, gullies, and waterways. We have a right to dam up the mighty rivers to provide food and power to great cities. We have a right to sculpt highways across its landscapes.
However, should we reject Him and embrace a grotesque worldview that attempts to make us masters of the universe, paradoxically, masters is exactly what we don’t become. Instead, we rightfully recognize that the earth and all that fills it has not been given to us. Consequently, we cease all creative activities that improve a property. After all, these are typically performed only by owners, not the tenants or squatters that we have made ourselves.
Taking our place are countries in Asia and Africa, building the grand projects that improve the lives of millions. Those bridges, buildings, dams and roads are, for the most part, being built in countries whose populations are becoming more and more Bible-centric. A coincidence? I don’t think so.
Your life, like mine, is punctuated by grand projects. Some of these concern your home, family, marriage or child-raising. Other grand projects you’re working on involve making money and developing a business or career. Just like the grand projects of nations, yours are also fueled by faith and carried on conviction. The forces that sap the will of nations and individuals are not new. I pray that Thought Tools brings you encouragement and direction. While you can read old Thought Tools online, for a few dollars (on sale this week) you can acquire the Thought Tools Set (or individual volumes) composed of three years’ worth of teachings. Bring them to the supper table, read them on your commute and share them with friends. Ground your projects in ancient Jewish wisdom and see them soar!
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