My friend and fellow Patheos blogger David French had some good words for July 4th — or July 5th, for that matter:
Give thanks. Give thanks for God’s unmerited grace. Give thanks for the sacrifice and character of generations before you. Give thanks for the gift of a nation so prosperous that even our poor citizens have more and live better than billions of the truly poor around the globe. A friend who has labored for years to confront the AIDS epidemic in Africa is fond of reminding me that an American birth is like beginning life with a winning lottery ticket. After my own time abroad, I’ve learned how right he is.
Reflect about your responsibility. To whom much is given, much is expected. What are we doing with the gifts we’ve been given? Americans have done great things – liberating hundreds of millions from the darkest of tyrannies, creating and fostering a system of individual liberty that has empowered human flourishing, and giving more of our wealth to the world’s poor and distressed than any other nation.
Yet our sins are still grievous. We permit doctors to kill unborn children on their mother’s whim. We are more generous than most but still too often held hostage to our own greed. And we’re sacrificing our virtues for our appetites as the sexual revolution consumes our families and destroys our cultural foundations.
Reflection should lead to resolve. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” That’s the biblical blueprint for reform – simple to repeat but ever more difficult for our worldly church to execute. Even the first step, humility, is too much for most of us.
Do we still believe that God will “heal our land” if the people of God repent and turn to righteousness? Or was that promise only for the Hebrews?
Here’s what I believe. We cannot look at every nation that was destroyed and conclude that the people of God within that nation failed to live righteously. Nor can we look at every nation that flourishes and conclude that the people of God were humble and repentant. For nations as for individuals, the rain falls on the righteous and the wicked alike.
However, when the people of God live as the people of God, they have a leavening effect upon the culture. They sow the seeds of the true, the good and the beautiful into the land. The truths they uphold and the values they extol improve the culture, restraining our lower impulses and animating our higher aspirations.
I am exceedingly grateful for the nation in which I live, and I am — not unaware of its faults and mistakes — also proud of its heritage. Like Mr French, however, I worry over the diseases of selfishness and greed, callousness and materialism that have infected our nation. If the church can be the church it’s meant to be, if the followers of Jesus can truly be followers of Jesus and live out his teachings and his heart, then I believe the land would be blessed. Not because God would be compelled to intervene in supernatural ways, but because God works through those who serve him to redeem all things. Cultures that are set upon what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, will be blessed as a matter of course.