God Bless America?
Around this time of year it is not uncommon to see flags, signs, facebook statuses, etc. which exclaim “God bless America!” It seems a nice enough sentiment and potentially a reflection of a valid and perhaps virtuous patriotism. Of course, it could also reflect an idolatrous nationalism. However, I do not intend to parse that distinction here. (See M.J. Andrew’s post). Rather, I want to ask whether it is theologically accurate or appropriate to utter this exclamation.
To my knowledge the only “nation” that God promises to bless is Israel (which does not refer to the modern nation-state of Israel or any nation-state for that matter), and we must remember that while His love is clearly unconditional, his blessing is not, not even for Israel. In the face of Israel’s idolatry and hard-heartedness God, on more than one occasion, withdrew his blessing and replaced it with the curse of exile and/or other natural consequences of the actions which expressed Israel’s will.
Additionally, Israel’s status as God’s people, while never revoked, has essentially been superseded by the one, holy, catholic (universal), apostolic Church. Thus no nation or state has a claim to be God’s own in the same sense that Israel could have made that claim in Old Testament times. Furthermore, we are a pilgrim people. Our home is the heavenly Jerusalem and our loyalty should go to all other members of the BODY before it goes to members of our nation.
Now, I see no problem with praying for God’s blessing upon our nation. However, it seems to me that that prayer should sound more like the prayer of the repentant publican. “Lord, we, as the body of America, have sinned against you and turned our backs to you. Have mercy on us. Forgive us. Do not turn your face from us, but in your mercy bless and guide us and our leaders to conform to your Truth and Love.” Rather, the tenor and tone of “God bless America” tends to reek of pride, the vicious type. “Thank God we are not like those other damnable nations. We stand for truth and goodness and freedom. Rejoice at our greatness. God bless America the beautiful, the proud, the good!”
Perhaps our country would be in a healthier spiritual condition if we repented and did penance for the sins of our country before asking for God’s blessing, rather than praising our alleged virtues and nearly demanding blessing in an act of praise, not of God, but of ourselves, our country.