There seems to be so much discussion these days on whether or not Christians should show patriotism. My friend Michael Wear goes into some of the complexities of this discussion over on Q Ideas. His piece is definitely worth checking out.
Scot McKnight has also tossed out some questions for pastors and congregants worth discussing.
I personally find John Piper’s discussion of the topic to be thoughtful, helpful, and worth discussing. Piper also uses C.S. Lewis’s notion of storge from The Four Loves, so that scored some points with me too!
Here’s some of it:
We are pilgrims. We are exiles, sojourners, refugees ourselves in a very refugee-heightened culture.First Peter 2:11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles. And Philippians 3:20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” So, the question, I think, is being framed rightly. We are citizens of heaven. We are sojourners and pilgrims on the earth, and that is owing to the fact that this world is fallen, not the fact that it is created.
We are going to spend eternity in a created world. So, we are not aliens because earth is a bad thing, but Satan won’t be the god of that world anymore like he is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Then that is what makes us feel so alien here is that the god of this world is Satan, and he holds such extensive sway in the systems of this world that the world is permeated with sin and it makes us feel like we are not at home.
We are aching that we would be done with sin and at home with Jesus in the presence of his holiness (2 Corinthians 5:8). Holiness is the native air a Christian wants to breathe. When I say we are aliens and exiles and sojourners and pilgrims, I don’t mean that the earth is a place we despise. I mean that the structures we find ourselves in are so permeated with sin that we want something new.
However, I think God means for us to be enmeshed in the world in various ways. We are not to go out of the world. We are in the world. We are not supposed to be of the world (John 17:15–19).
We are in a city. We are in a state. We are in a county or a country and a continent.
There are all kinds of these geographical and cultural allegiances or identifications that we have. And if I ask, now, what is patriotism in this kind of paradoxical enmeshment, my answer is that patriotism is a special love or affection, endearment for fatherland.
It could be a city. It could be a state, a neighborhood. It could be a tribe. It could be an ethnicity. And that love is different from the general love that Christians have for everybody or for the whole world. And the reason I think that is true, and there are several reasons, but one is that there are these special affections indicated in the Bible in various ways.
For example, in Galatians 6:10 it says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” It is as though there is this specialness about those who are close to you, have a similar deep bond to you, a kind of affection for them that is different from the world. Or 1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith.”
So, it seems like it is right not only to have this general love for everybody that covers the world, covers our neighbors, covers our enemies, but also and especially for our families or those near to us. And Paul himself said in Romans 9:3 that he had a special burden for “my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” It doesn’t seem to me that he would have written like that if it weren’t appropriate for him to feel some kind of special affection for his fellow Jews, a kind of patriotism for his ethnicity of Jewishness.So, there is something about this flesh, this close identity, that being bound together in a family way or a cultural way that makes us love them with an unusual kind or a special kind of affection. And as I was trying to think through, now, is this legitimate? I mean I am pointing out that it exists, that we have got pointers in the Bible.
But it was C.S. Lewis who helped me with some categories in his book The Four Loves.
The Love of Slippers
He said that there is the love of philos, which is friendship, the love of eros, which is sex, and the love of agape, which is the love of God. And then he added there is this love called storge, which I find to be the most interesting one. And storge is a kind of affection that you feel for a pair of slippers that you have worn way too many years and your wife wants you to throw them out. “No way you are going to throw these slippers out! They fit like a glove.”
So this is what he means by storge, a little kid who has a rag doll that is just rags is what it is and they wouldn’t part with it for anything. That is a little kind of patriotism that is probably very, very good, very admissible. At least C.S. Lewis makes a case that it is.
You get the idea that there is this kind of affection for [slippers] or a city or a fatherland or a language or a culture, and it is because it fits you. When you leave it, you get on a plane, you go to another country, yeah, there is an excitement and a challenge and a stimulation of going other places, but there is something inside that, when you come home, it just feels wonderful to eat the food and lie in your own bed and be in your own living room and walk your own streets and hear your own language. All that seems to be something that God puts his approval on.
Patriotism or Idolatry?
So, I think, yes, there is such a thing, a good thing, as patriotism. And with regard to nations, it seems likeRomans 13:1, in calling us to be subject to the powers that wield the sword, implies that in some sense a country identity or a nation state identity has the right to use that sword to defend itself against aggression and, thus, in some sense preserve its right to exist and exist as it exists. And so, I think that implies that there is a proper place for patriotism at the national level.
Maybe we should wrap it up by saying: Whatever form your patriotism takes, let it be a deep sense that we are more closely bound to brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries, other cultures than we are to our closest unbelieving compatriot or family member in the fatherland or in the neighborhood. That is really crucial to feel that, I think. Otherwise, I think our patriotism is drifting over into idolatry.
God is our King, not man. His kingdom is our final allegiance, but under that banner it is right to be thankful that God gave us our land freely. I am thinking now particularly of America. He gave this to us freely. I didn’t deserve to be born here. It wasn’t my choice. We don’t deserve this place any more than I deserve any other common grace or special grace. It is right to be thankful that people paid a high price to preserve our land with its freedoms and its cultural distinctives. And it is right to be thankful that we have all these cultural slippers to put on that we don’t want to throw away.
But I have to come back in closing to our alien-exile-sojourner status as the main thing. We are citizens of heaven before we are earthly patriots, which means that there are bound to be conflicts between the way Christ our King calls us to live and the ways our beloved homeland expects us to live from time to time.
I think C.S. Lewis might say: Agape, the love of God, orders storge. It orders philos. It orders eros.
In other words, these earthly loves of friend and sex and affections for country and for our favorite slippers are ordered and kept in their proper place by a superior allegiance to God. Our love for God is primary. Only the value of our King, God, Jesus can bring a right ordering of the value of our earthly loves. Only our heavenly Father, our heavenly patriotism, can order our earthly patriotism.
Read the whole post here. What do you think of Dr. Piper’s discussion? Can we live in the healthy tension of pilgrims and patriots? Is this view consistent with the Christian faith? Will you be eating hot dogs or hamburgers or both? Happy 4th!