Today we honor the life of the fortieth President of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan. We celebrate a life which benefited so many others, a life that started with humble beginnings in a small town in Illinois, realized the American dream on the movie and television screen, sacrificed personal gain to serve the citizens of California and later the nation as a whole, and engineered the defeat of the oppressive Soviet Empire to win the Cold War and liberate millions of victims of communism.
Though a terrible disease caused his own memory to dim over this last decade, history will always testify to his cause and accomplishments; our own memory of him must never fade.
Ronald Reagan always looked forward, yet he continually learned from the past. Today, we would be wise to pause and reflect on a life that was spent in service to God, country, and humanity, and to reminisce of a time when character was king.
His life exemplified four characteristics: conviction, confidence, courage, and compassion.
[RELATED on OCR: A conservative who doesn’t credit Reagan–at all. Read “Why the GOP Lost 2012 and Will Continue to Lose” by John Langenderfer and let us know what you think!]
All people hold a worldview which shapes their thoughts and actions, their desires, and hopes; the foundation of Ronald Reagan’s worldview was his faith in Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior. Reagan was “sure that God had a plan for his life and guided him daily along a preordained path that was just and right, and which made him confidently optimistic” (Paul Kengor, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism – REVIEWED on OCR). This faith, modeled by his mother, Nelle, who first taught him about God’s plan and how He works all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), was a driving force behind all aspects of Reagan’s life, including his “crusade” against atheistic Communism. An “instrument of God, doing the Almighty’s will,” Reagan believed himself and his “team” to be divinely “ordained” to lead a nation “chosen by God to confront the Soviet empire and prevail.” He was compelled by a faith in the God who created all humans in His image and ingrained in their soul a “yearning for freedom.” Reagan believed America to be appointed for this historic endeavor to confront and defeat the USSR to free God’s children from the oppression of Communism.
The great C.S. Lewis once asserted, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither,” and proclaimed, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.” Ronald Reagan’s life testifies to these truths. He set his heart on Christ’s Kingdom and set his hands and feet to work to make the city of man a little more like Heaven. His meditation on eternity translated into dedicated action on this earth.
Certainty in God’s providential plan for his life emboldened Ronald Reagan and instilled him an unwavering confidence and assurance. He desired a confident America, a “global leader that would protect and promote freedom”: a “Shining City Upon a Hill,” as Puritan John Winthrop had once so eloquently dreamed. Having inherited a nation with a wounded spirit from the disaster of Vietnam, the disgrace of the Iranian hostage crisis, a stagnant economy stuck in a recession, a forty-year Cold War that still threatened the world with the devastation of a nuclear holocaust, and a people who were ashamed of their country and whose morale was at a historic low, Reagan’s task of rejuvenating this nation was truly monumental. However, formidable opposition never discouraged him.
During his 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan proclaimed and prophesied, “So help us God, we will make America great again.” With cheerful optimism and an invigorating spirit, he galvanized a nation behind his cause, his truly American cause, the cause of freedom, liberty, and opportunity of for all people.
The road ahead of him was rife with obstacles, both foreign and domestic. Nevertheless, Ronald Reagan persevered. His willingness to stay the course reflects not only faith in his policies but also “strong leadership in the face of overwhelming criticism.” This resurgence of morale and revival of the economy and the military ultimately came to fruition, and just as Reagan proclaimed, this renewal became the means through which he “would restore America to greatness … and catalyze America’s comeback.”
In the process, he did not merely win our nation’s votes; he won our hearts.
The impetus behind so many aspects of Reagan’s character and purpose was compassion. He realized and appreciated that his life had been blessed, and he responded by graciously dedicating it to aiding the lives of others. Reagan valued the sanctity of a human life created in the image of God, and believed that all people, citizens of the West or Eastern European, American or Polish, born or unborn, deserved to lives full of meaning and purpose. Reagan believed that not only had God chosen America to be free, but that He “gave the nation that freedom with a larger responsibility to all mankind” (Kengor 23). He repudiated the policy of détente, believing that one should not condone or sit passively by as millions struggled under the heavy hand of totalitarian oppression.
Courage helps define the legacy of Ronald Reagan because it permeated his life from a young age. As a lifeguard during his teenage years, he rescued 77 people from the tumultuous current of the Rock River in Illinois, never losing a single person. This rescue mission continued, when as president, he liberated those behind the Iron Curtain. Even though no one had died in this war between two mutually exclusive ideologies, it was a war he “wanted to win” and knew America needed to win (Kengor 27). Boldly rejecting moral equivalency despite vicious criticism, Reagan believed America needed to confront the fight head on, reject any “deal” that would preserve the “permanent slavery” of those in Eastern Europe, and “choose courage over accommodation.”
He showed us that war could be waged and won without the loss of life. Throughout Eastern Europe today, people celebrate the life of a man who valued their lives enough to help them experience the joy of freedom and liberty.
It has been said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” If courage truly is the benchmark Ronald Reagan passed the test with flying colors.
Today we honor a life that typifies determination, bravery, nerve, valor, boldness, discipline, desire, joy, laughter, cheer, hopefulness, brightness, commitment, passion, and love: a life that reminds us that conviction is not arrogance, that exposing falsehood is not intolerance, that truth can be proclaimed with love, and that as human beings we have both the right and responsibility to take a stand and fight against evil.
Always gracious, always grateful, Ronald Reagan epitomized grace under pressure, and his confidence and conviction was conveyed and expressed with grace and humility.
In the words of his dear friend and co-laborer, Margaret Thatcher,
“For the final years of his life, [Ronald Reagan]’s mind was clouded by illness. That cloud has now lifted. He is himself again – more himself than at any time on this earth. For we may be sure that the Big Fella Upstairs never forgets those who remember Him. And as the last journey of this faithful pilgrim took him beyond the sunset, and as heaven’s morning broke, I like to think – in the words of Bunyan – that ‘all the trumpets sounded on the other side.’
We here [on earth] still move in twilight. But we have one beacon to guide us that Ronald Reagan never had. We have his example. Let us give thanks today for a life that achieved so much for all of God’s children.”
We are thankful indeed.
Adam Josefczyk is the Vice President of Operations for Citizens for Community Values. He keeps a life-size cardboard cutout of Ronald Reagan in his office.
All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.