American God

I’ve always been a little uneasy celebrating the 4th of July, and I think I’ve finally figured out why. It’s because on Independence Day, even some of the most devout Christians I know become very convincing pagans, exchanging their worship of the God of scripture for some kind of American god. It’s all this tied up in this “God Bless America” nonsense, and it needs to stop.

It has to stop because we don’t want God to bless America. What I mean by this is that we don’t want the God of the Bible to bless America. We don’t want him to love liberally all the peoples of the earth. We would find it nearly impossible to say “God Bless Iraq” or “God Bless North Korea,” because we want the blessing all for ourselves, not for the other, the enemy. What we want is more akin to a tribal god, a powerful national protector whose chief concern is the well-being of one nation, our nation. (Wes over at Theophilusian Fragments wrote great piece on Jonah and the dangers of a nationalistic faith).

We want an American god, one who will look after our own interests, and not the interests of Iraq or China or Australia. We want this American god to bless us, aid us in battle against our enemies and make us the superior nation on this planet. We picture him big and strong and very Anglo-Saxon. He hates communism and wants to bless every American business with prosperity, despite the fact that many American business engage in very unethical practices. He wants to kill America’s enemies, despite the fact that the majority of our enemies are innocent civilians unwillingly tossed into a war they didn’t start, given a freedom they didn’t ask for. He wants to make sure American boys and girls succeed at everything, despite the fact that many of them aren’t willing to work for what they want. He only wants the best, and only for us.

Can you smell the raw patriotism?

He looks kind of like this, actually.

And it’s disgusting, especially when this alien deity is propagated by the church who calls the true God lord and king. It’s heart-wrenching to watch otherwise honorable clergy assent to the worship of the American god by asking him for the things I’ve just described in the paragraph above. It breaks my heart to watch American clergy hold a place of pride in their hearts for America, when they know that their real God is a God of all nations.

God is much bigger than America, bigger than her wars and economic situation in the world. He’s concerned much less with our happiness and much more with our holiness. He cares about America, true, but also about Uganda and Canada and Nicaragua and all the other nations of the world. He cares about individual soldiers, yes, but his desire is for peace on earth. He is not safe, like the American god it seems we desire, but he is good and he loves deeply. His goals are wider and far more profound, but they are also so much more fulfilling than simply economic prosperity and temporal happiness.

So let’s abandon our American god. He’s not real, anyway. Let’s remember that God wants to bless all nations, and through Christ, has begun the long and painful process of bringing those blessings about. Let’s stop petitioning him for help in war when his aim is peace. Let’s embrace him as he has revealed himself to us, not as we wish for him to be. This Independence Day, let’s celebrate the independence we have in Christ, and hold it so much more dearly than our political independence.

    • steve lefever
    • July 5th, 2010

    Here’s the problem I have with what you wrote. I celebrate Independence Day because I believe in the idea of America. It is the day we as a nation gained ability to be free to express the kind of opinions you have above without fear of repercussions. I hope that God blesses you in your ministry. By saying that, I don’t naturally exclude all the other people out there that are serving God or the ones that God longs to have come to him. In the same way, I will always sing God Bless America with pride because I love America and the people in it, just as I love you.

    This does not mean that I don’t love the people in Iraq or North Korea. I have traveled all over this world and talked with the people of those nations, including China. One thing I have found is that we are all the same. We all want a roof over our heads and food on our plate, we want our families to be safe and our children to grow up and be happy and contribute to the community. We all have a sense of national pride and I don’t find fault with that. Where this goes wrong is when, as you point out, it turns into an exclusion of the rest of the world. This is when it becomes discrimination and ends up in hate crimes, terrorism and war. It’s the extremists that take a good idea and make it bad.

    Think about it like you would a sports competition where the participants are true sportsmen. Everyone wants to win, but there can only be one winner. Those that lose and have done their best, hold their heads up high knowing that they did all they could but the best team won. Those that win hold their opponent in high esteem for what they accomplished to get to where they are and the way they played. That is the way it’s supposed to work. It, of course, doesn’t always work that way because we are all good sportsmen.

    Your position assumes that everyone looks at things from your point of view. Your point of view, while valid for you, does not apply to me. I find fault in it as I’ve explained above, but I don’t find fault in you for having this opinion. That is the beauty of the ideals of the country that I hold dear. I wish that all in this world had the same freedom to express themselves and serve God in their own way, God’s way. I respect your opinion, but couldn’t disagree with you more. God bless you, God bless America and God bless all the people of God’s earth.

    For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

    Also, remember, God himself set a precedent for blessed group of people when He made the Jews His chosen in the Old Testament.

      • aaroncarr72
      • July 5th, 2010

      Steve,

      Your first point is correct. God’s blessing doesn’t always require the exclusion of others. However, I do not believe this holds true on the national level. For God to bless America means that she succeeds militarily and economically, at the very least. To succeed militarily means that people have to die, that wars must be waged against sons and daughters of God. Somebody has to lose. You said it yourself (albeit in a different context). For God to bless and protect our country and its military means the death of others, the exclusion of them from the blessing. To succeed economically must mean that American companies continue to produce huge profits, and the best way to do that is with exploitative and unethical practices like sweatshops. Or subprime lending. Regardless of the practice, for a business to really be ‘blessed,’ for it to really get ahead, someone (usually thousands of someones and usually overseas) is exploited and robbed of dignity and justice. Those are not blessings that I want.

      You believe in America? Good, but I believe in Christ. The ideals that this country stands for are not principles it simply discovered one day. You believe in freedom? I believe in the ultimate freedom Christ offers, freedom not to do and say whatever I want, but freedom from sin, freedom to be fully human. This is the freedom I believe in, not given or controlled by any man or any government, but by the Son of Man and the Kingdom of Heaven.

      And of course my viewpoint is my own, I never claimed that it belonged to anyone else (though I hope and pray and occasionally know there are those who share it). Opinions are always subjective, and that’s reality. What I do hope, however, is that my opinions fit squarely into the larger box of historical, orthodox Christianity (and I believe they do).

      Thanks for the comment, Steve. Israel’s a big topic that I don’t have room to cover here. Expect a blog post on it soon.

    • Abigail K
    • July 5th, 2010

    This is wonderful! When we pray for God to bless America on the fourth or any other day, we should remind ourselves what we mean by the statement. My desire in using the phrase is to beg my God to save this country from itself. I would infinitely rather see America burn in the flames of her enemies than destroy herself in the spiritual pit of a platonic Church. I believe that there is still more good she can do in the heavenly war and I pray for God to renew her original thirst for Him and his Word when I ask for His blessing.

    • Keri
    • July 5th, 2010

    Aaron, in your response to steve your descriptions of blessings from God seem to describe what the secular American understands God’s blessings to be (to succeed militarily, financially, etc.). I agree that many Americans ask God for these specific blessings. However, I disagree that this is the only definition of blessing.

    As a Christian when I ask that God bless America, I mean that He bless our nation in whatever way He sees fit. His blessings can far surpass military and financial success and may have nothing to do with either of those goals. It is my prayer that God blesses America as a nation of fallible people, that he blesses the people who live in this country, and that the Christians in America, as members of His one universal church, can receive and recognize blessings from God and then in return bless those around them.

    Let me explain a little better with an example. As a member of a family I pray for God’s blessing upon my family, I pray that he heals, protects, guides and most importantly saves the members of my family. I pray that he uses me to help bless my family, and I pray that whatever his will is for my family and the members of my family prevails (I do not claim to know exactly all the time what his will is, but I do know that it is good and I do know that should it prevail it will certainly be a great blessing). In the same way, as an American I pray that God blesses this country he has put me in. I pray that he protects, guides, heals and most importantly saves the citizens of our country (saves them from Satan, that is).

    God’s blessings are his alone to give, and when he blesses it is often in a way the world cannot recognize (ie. not with money or power, but with salvation and love). So to pray that God bless America, at least for me, certainly does not mean that I pray he bless us in military and financial areas, and when God does bless America, however he does it, the only loser is Satan. This being said, I also pray that God bless other nations, the people in them, but July 4th serves as a good reminder that people in our country suffer too and that there are many here who hope for God’s blessing. So on the 4th of July I certainly do hope that God blesses America!

    • jen
    • July 6th, 2010

    Steve’s and Keri’s responses are both excellent; couldn’t say it better myself. We need to remember that our idea of God’s blessing is not necessarily God’s idea of blessing and I pray the same way Keri does – that God bless our country (and others) in the way that is according to His Will and not mine because only He knows what is truly beneficial to us.

  1. July 4th, 2010

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