In the epic exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt, the weary wanderers came at last to the end of the desert journey, beyond what Moses had called that “waste howling wilderness.” Encamped on Canaan’s borders, with only the Jordan to cross, the Israelites had to decide whether they were ready to commit themselves to the final, bold push. It was their moment of decision.
Is it not true that we are always passing through various scenes and shifting circumstances? And does it not seem that these little experiences build up like some giant symphonic theme to a final moment of decision? In the Spanish bullfights the decisive time is called the moment of truth. It is the time when a final stroke must be made. On the other hand, the Greeks called the time of readiness kairos, the fullness of time, that mystic moment when all that one has been and is and hopes to be must be flung into the balance for better or for worse. Shakespeare sensed this peculiar, momentous time of decision which all of us know, and spoke of it as that gathering of events which produces the readiness of the tide to bear our frail hopes on to their golden port of destiny. Remember the familiar words, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, when taken at the flood leads on to victory. Omit it, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
Let me venture a word about our country and its capacity to make decisions. The inability to make a moral commitment clearly and decisively and promptly and to stick by it may be the major weakness in this nation’s character, with all of its other abundant, affirmative qualities. People may one day search for the reason why so great a nation as ours did not rise to lasting greatness. If this unhappy and unwelcome possibility happens, I believe they will say that here was a grand and prosperous people. One thing they lacked: the capacity to seize promptly the initiative in a right cause and to make whatever sacrifice, over however long a period necessary, to bring that decision to a successful issue.
Somber as it sounds, American history seems to support the thesis that an otherwise gallant and in many ways generous people appear to suffer from the serious weakness of undue reluctance, of letting well enough alone, reacting rather than initiating determined, sustained efforts to set right things that are wrong. We are accused of being a brash people, but in our great group commitments this may not be true at all. In the first great war, we hesitated before commitment and then, at the last, fell back in moral weariness from participation in the League of Nations, which with American participation might have been a mighty force for the abolition of the scourge of war. In the second great war, we waited until so much of Europe lay under the harsh hand of Nazi tyranny. After the Civil War, when so many Americans, North and South, had paid so great a price, testing, so to speak, in their own blood, the direction the nation would take, the same weakness of indecision of stamina seemed to seize the nation. After so great a cost of human life and the land violently torn in two, the nation could not bring itself to make unequivocal decision that this would be a nation of equals. With what tragic results we are all too familiar.
To see the right and to seize it and to serve it no matter the cost is God’s mandate to this great and blessed land. How a soul bears itself at those crossroads of decision determines the difference between success and failure.