Image: Illustration by Oli Winward / Salzmanart

Why a faith that transcends all nations leaves room for patriotic devotion.

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.

To be sure, we ignore the “no exceptions” outlook at our peril. Christian faith may not forbid elevated attachment to particular places (any more than to particular people). But hopefully it enlarges our vision, sets vital boundaries, and tempers patriotic excess. Proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” reaffirms that nothing else—no crown, no constitution, no ballad of blood and soil—should claim our highest allegiance. It joins us to that “great multitude . . . from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).

If I request prayer only for my ailing grandmother every week, you might wonder why I never request prayer for the work of the church or the spread of the gospel. Likewise, if I can’t stop singing “God Bless America,” you might question my eagerness to sing “Worthy Is the Lamb” among that great rejoicing multitude.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Matt Reynolds