“God bless America” vs. “God bless the whole world”

Kate Smith

Some people are saying we shouldn’t say or sing “God Bless America.” That is too exclusive.  Rather, we should say, “God Bless the Whole World.”

Matt Reynolds at Christianity Today explains why praying “God Bless America”–and the words are a prayer– is indeed appropriate.

Just as you pray for your grandmother, he says, and not all the grandmothers in the world, it’s right to pray for those who are near and dear to our hearts.  We can’t fully comprehend abstractions–like “humanity” or “the world”–so we pray for what is tangible, for actual communities that we are part of.

I would add the vocational point that this is why God tells us to love not the human race but to love our neighbor, that actual flesh and blood person whom our vocations bring into our lives.

Read the essay, excerpted and linked after the jump.  Then please join me in prayer:  “God bless America.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

From Matt Reynolds, You Have God’s Blessing to Say ‘God Bless America’ | Christianity Today:

Back in college, I belonged to a campus Christian fellowship. One night, at our weekly Bible study, a regular group member arrived looking frazzled. Evidently, it had been a hectic day. When we went around the room sharing prayer requests, she volunteered, in a voice both weary and playful, “The whole world—and everyone in it.”

We all shared a good laugh. “Guess that pretty much covers everything! We can keep prayer time short tonight.”

I thought back to that moment several years later, when I first encountered bumper stickers reading, “God Bless the Whole World. No Exceptions.” You can see why someone might find that sentiment attractive. “God bless America”? Too narrow and chauvinistic. We’re better off not beseeching the Almighty to play favorites.

Still, the new slogan left me discontented. Why imply that there’s anything unseemly, even ungodly, about loves and loyalties less than universal in scope?

We understand this readily enough in our prayer lives. If I ask my fellow small group members to lift up my ailing grandmother, no one expresses bafflement or outrage that I haven’t asked God to heal all the ailing grandmothers. No one imagines that I harbor indifference or ill will toward any other old folks. In other words, no one scolds me for failing to remember “the whole world—and everyone in it.”

In all likelihood, my ailing grandmother isn’t the world’s most meritorious grandmother. God doesn’t love her any more, or less, than your own kith and kin. But being my grandmother, her welfare naturally lies uppermost in my mind, and weighs heaviest on my heart. So it is with nations. You cherish your homeland—you champion its cause above others—because it’s home. . . .

But I will say this for “God bless America”: As a prayer (and it is a prayer, not an idolatrous boast), it gets human nature right. As embodied creatures, we can’t pour our hearts into lofty abstractions like “humanity” or “the world.” Instead, our pulses beat to the rhythms of flesh-and-blood communities, with their histories and traditions, their customs and folkways, their neighbors and friends, and their paradoxical pairings of good and evil, glory and tragedy. We can’t escape feeling inspired or haunted by what Abraham Lincoln called “the mystic chords of memory.”

Anyone reborn of the Holy Spirit will naturally lament, with inward groans and outward cries, all the brokenness afflicting “the whole world—and everyone in it.” But a prayer aspiring to everything has a subtle way of shrinking to nothing. For all the hazards of praying “God bless America,” and for all the other prayers we ought to pray, it remains a prayer for something real and tangible.

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