Monday, May 30, 2011

Is National Pride Contrary to Christian Ethics?

War, and the American experience of it, has always been on my mind, ever since I can remember thinking beyond myself, and about bigger things in life other than my need for amusement in forms of video games, physical games (baseball), after-school cartoons and the unfortunate bane of a fantasy life thrust upon teenage boys from various sources, both without and within. "We've been at war in every generation of our existence as a country," was a thought I had in junior high. It's true. The American revolution (1775-1783), then the war of 1812, the Civil War (1861-1865), WWI (1914-1917), WWII (1941-1945), Korea, Vietnam, 1st Gulf War, 2nd Gulf War. Right up to the present.

Is there more than one generation in all of U.S. history that has not experienced war? No. I've never been in a war. I thank God for that, I really do. When I say I thank God for it, I mean it literally: I thank God for it. And most Americans are thankful for America. Even non-churchgoers will say, "God bless America" from time to time, especially on Memorial Day. Remember all the gas stations and store front marquis after 9/11? "God bless America."

My friend Tim Willard wrote a recent piece on how it has become fashionable among younger Christians to eschew patriotism as anti-Christian. After all, our allegiance is to Christ and to His kingdom, not the kingdom of America, the argument goes. Further, say some, Christ died for all nations, and not just Americans (I've said this myself from behind the pulpit). However, while it is true that our allegiance is to God's kingdom, and that Jesus shed his blood for all nations (a vision that gives Christians in the United States a world-wide perspective on life and history), it is most certainly warranted for Christians in America to be proud of their nation, and to thank God for it. After all, Jesus died for the nations.

At the end of history, "every nation, tribe and tongue" will worship God (Rev. 13:7) . This means that God is interested in preserving cultures, and in preserving nations. Now, at certain times, because of wicked men who are bent on evil, a nation will go to war to protect itself. Further, a righteous nation that seeks to do justice and mercy--and the U.S., with all its faults, fits the category historically--will stamp out evil when the time comes.

There is such a thing as a just war.

A nation will rise up and declare freedom from its oppressors, such as in our Revolutionary War. A nation will rage against a machine of evil, as ours did against Hitler's sadistic dreams of malevolence. A nation will protect itself from thieves, robbers, and bandits, such as in our war against the Barbary Coast Pirates (Muslim slave traders). Romans 13: 1-7 tells us that God has instituted rulers over us in order to squelch evil. Christians are told to submit to their authorities, pay their taxes, and to do good. The Apostle Paul tell us, "For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer,"(vv. 3-4). Paul tells us that governments are set in place by God in order to provide order in the world, and to do away with evil. (The discussion on when to rebel against an evil government cannot be settled here).

Years ago, I am re-reading Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun (also made famous by Metallica's 1989 release and music video, One). Trumbo's heart for veterans screams for those who have paid not only the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms, but have been truncated into an existence absent of limb, mental peace, and overall physical health. They live with pain, while we celebrate with hot dogs, beer and a day at the park. Do we honor them, Trumbo asks?

I miss the parade, but speed on my bike downtown as fast as I can, for I don't want to miss the chance to thank a vet. I'm on the Grand Haven waterfront, right by the river. across from the Kirby Grill. There I see an old man in a uniform. He looks at me. I stick out my hand, and say: "Sir, I don't know you, but I want to thank you and your comrades for fighting for me and my freedom. Thank-you for risking your life for mine. Thank-you to your friends for giving theirs for mine. I am so thankful for the freedoms we have in this country. Thank you." He begins to weep. In a trembling. startled voice, he says, "I never hear any young people from these younger generations say anything like that. Thank you, young man." His lips continue to quiver, as we look at each other.

I'm not arguing for any and every war we've ever been in. But Christian, you have to admit that America is a nation blessed by our sovereign God of history, and that at least some of the wars we've been in are justified, not least of which WWII. Most of these men and women of the Greatest Generation are gone. But there are veterans of other wars who deserve your respect--whether you agree with the wars and conflicts our country has been in or currently is in or not. They have given themselves in service of their country and fellow citizens. They serve you, and they serve me. Let's thank them today. As my friend Tim asks, "Are we so pious" as to not do so?


A M said...

Thanks Chris for thanking a veteran for our freedoms.

A M said...

Awesome that you set a great model to thank veterans for their service Chris !