Friday, May 24, 2019

American Patriotism and Biblical Promises

I’m going to step on a rake here by criticizing an element of American patriotism. I didn’t actually have Memorial Day in mind when I came up with this, the timing just worked out that way. Hopefully, though, it will actually end up being appropriate. And I think I have enough of a history of love of country to have earned the right to point out its misapplication. My goal is not to tear down the U.S. Rather, it is to understand the Bible accurately. Doing so actually improves patriotism rather than degrading it.

There has been an urge, really throughout American history, to take God’s promises to Israel and apply them to the American context. In essence, it has been a way of saying that the United States is God’s new “chosen people.” I can think of a few passages that tend to be forced into this service. The most well known is 2 Chron. 7:14, where the Lord promises,

 [If] my people, who bear my name, humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.

Along with that, you will sometimes hear Ps. 33:12 used during our patriotic celebrations:

Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord.

As it so often tends to be, however, context is vital in both these passages. First, 2 Chron. 7 is particular. The whole chapter, along with the one that precedes it, is focused on the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. It is very much an historical statement. That can especially be seen in the verses that follow the one so often quoted in regard to the U.S. 2 Chron. 7:15–16 say,

My eyes will now be open and my ears attentive to prayer from this place. And I have now chosen and consecrated this temple so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there at all times.

God’s promise to heal the land is predicated on the Temple and Jerusalem. It was a promise given to the Israelites in the land He had given to them, which in turn had been given to them in fulfillment of His promises to Abraham. It concerns their special destiny as the people through whom the Messiah would come. That makes it difficult to see how it applies to America.

Psalm 33, on the other hand, is more universal. It describes the glory and power of the Lord, and of His protection of those who trust in Him. That makes it better suited to the purpose it is sometimes put, but it is still not the right usage. When we apply it that way, we miss a crucial distinction. America is not a Christian nation. It is a nation made of and by Christians.

Another way to say that is the American constitution (both our particular legal charter and our general national character) bears the hallmarks of Christian thought but does not have an explicit religious form. We do not live in a theocracy, and living here does not bind anyone to a certain religious outlook.

This makes fairly clear the fact that Americans are not uniquely God’s people, or that we are a replacement for Israel. The U.S. has been uniquely blessed, that is true enough. I certainly believe our Christian heritage has a great deal to do with that. To make a biblical mandate of such blessing, as though America itself is the reason for its own blessing, is to go a step too far.

Stepping back to the principles of passages like 2 Chron. 7:14 and Ps. 33:12 would put us in a better, more honest position. We don’t need to be a new Israel or a theocracy in order to enjoy blessing in this nation. We just have to recognize that blessing comes from devotion to God. That is what those passages say, and while specific to Israel, they do apply generally to the church that is God’s family in Christ.

As a nation, America is not heir to biblical promises. Many of us who live in this nation are heirs to those promises, though. It is not our responsibility to make the whole country fit into the sanctified position of Israel. Rather, our job as Christians is to live as God calls us to. When we are His light, others will see Him. When we share the blessings of repentance, others will follow. Then blessing and healing will be found. That truth is not so small as a single nation, even though we must all live it out in one. It is universal. And it will have far more impact if we associate it with the Cross of Christ rather than with the Stars and Stripes.

Keep the first things first. Allow America to be blessed incidentally. Let it be blessed because we are here, not because it is special. If you live in another country, know that the exact same idea applies where you are. We must not allow faith in God to depend upon one country. Not anymore. Since Jesus came, there is no more need. Our citizenship in His kingdom is what truly matters.

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