God doesn’t bless America.
No, this isn’t the kind of inflammatory, fear-fueled message that lots of Evangelical pastors prefer to major in these days.
It’s not some doom and gloom, sky-is-falling, bullhorn warning that God is ticked-off at America and is doing terrible things to us because of it.
This is not a dire, brimstone chastising about God abandoning us for our growing wickedness, removing the specific good fortune we once deserved and received.
It’s simply a reminder that God doesn’t bless America and has never blessed America.
God doesn’t bless America for the same reason that God doesn’t curse America—God doesn’t see America.
The heart of our Christian story is that God is not in a nation-maker or an empire-builder. God is a soul-lover.
The first few words of one of the most universally known passages of Scripture: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life, reveal something powerfully beautiful about the massive scope of the love of God and yet the startling intimacy of that love.
This love is universe-sized, and yet it is individually delivered.
There is no talk of continent or nation or government, no mention of border or land or country anymore. God’s plan is actually far too big and yet much too small for that.
It turns out that God has been creating, speaking to, and blessing people long before America was ever a gleam in mother England’s eye. Hope was already provided and it wasn’t going to be through a place or a regime or a power, but through a person. God is the hope of nations—not any nation.
The lazy phrase God Bless America has saturated our Christian culture and flooded our churches and pulpits, and yet beyond an easy high, beyond a feel-good phrase to fuel our nationalistic and religious fervor—it doesn’t really mean much.
God’s agenda is not America’s prosperity or dominance or success, and God’s reach is not confined within our borders either. To say that God blesses America, is to claim that we have the market cornered on reflecting the image of the Divine and that all of our citizens would even care to make such a claim for themselves.
I understand patriotism. I get loving where you come from. I understand how proximity naturally breeds affinity. It’s when these ideas of nationalism and home and country begin to define our theology or create our religious worldview that we fashion ourselves into an idol. We begin to actually renovate God in our own opulent, aggressive, materialistic image and ask that the world bow down to it.
When we imagine America as specifically blessed, we replace God’s will with our national desires. We make our country God’s focus. We act as if Divinity is on our payroll. We can then easily justify seeing those beyond our borders as inferior or dangerous or even evil.
We begin to think we can legislate out the love and wrath of God.
The phrase God Bless America implies that God chooses favorites; as if driving around with a bumper sticker that reads: PROUD PARENT OF NORTH AMERICA.
The simplified story of our faith is:
– God uses a people, the Israelites, to be a model for the world; a way to reveal to them God’s character.
– God makes a covenant with Abraham to be the “father of many nations”. In this first covenant, God is reached through following rules and laws.
– When the Israelites prove to be unable to represent God and to follow the rules to perfection, God sends Jesus and he makes a second covenant. This time, God is not reached through rules, but by faith. God creates a new people; one not marked by government or borders or geography, but by belief and because of their belovedness.
In other words, God is not about the franchising out of the American Dream and we should never operate under that assumption.
In a letter to a church in Colossae (Col. 3:11-12) a pastor named Paul is writing to an early Christian faith community, and he gives them these words: Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Paul reminds his listener that all barriers and divisions, all designations, labels, borders and bloodlines are now inferior. They are man-made and they are all rendered meaningless. This is not just semantics; not merely a trivial word choice revision we need to make as we live in the world. This is a life-altering truth that can change how we see everything.
As a Christian, when I begin to live bigger than God Bless America:
God gets right-sized. Instead of being an employee of my country, God again becomes the eternal, perfect, unfathomable Creator of the world whose name or likeness or will aren’t up for sale.
Equality leaves the building. A child in the suburbs of Detroit or in the slums of Africa becomes just as important to me as one in my own playroom. I will advocate, grieve, work and sacrifice for all of them equally.
My purpose changes. My goal will no longer be to get everyone to live like America or to emulate America. I won’t look to franchise out my culture or my lifestyle. My individual calling as a believer, will be to tell every person I meet of God’s love for them.
Justice goes viral. I’ll no longer deem suffering outside my country as more tolerable as that which happens within it. I will become a citizen of the world and a lover of Humanity.
Love your country.
Treasure your home land.
Be proud of where you come from.
Celebrate this nation.
But never believe that God blesses America.
God loves the world.
That is even greater news.