God bless America.
It might seem to some like an easy statement to make, and for many years, I think most every American could easily say it and feel good about saying it.
In recent years, however, some have begun to balk and push back against that statement. We often hear it in political addresses, and certainly there is a beautiful patriotic song built around the statement, but not everyone feels comfortable with it being said so openly and publicly.
Within the last few years, I have begun to see a bumper sticker that expresses the opposition some feel to the statement. The bumper sticker says, “God Bless Everyone … No Exceptions.”
This is also a good statement, and one that certainly has Biblical support and is part of Jesus’ teaching. Particularly in his parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus challenges every one of us to consider who our neighbor is and who we have responsibility for.
But putting these two statements in opposition to one another sets up a false conflict. They are not mutually exclusive. Scripture teaches that we should seek God’s blessing for our nation, and that does not mean one is asking for that over and against God blessing another nation. When one says, “God bless America,” it does not mean “bless us and curse others.”
So why not just ask for God to bless every nation, and leave it at that? Why would we ask for God’s blessing our nation specifically? It all has to do with relationship and responsibility.
Let me give an analogy. If you have a family member in the hospital and pray for that family member to get well, you also pray for your family member’s doctors and nurses. It is a prayer born out of relationship and responsibility.
We have unique relationships with family members and friends, and so we pray for them, we seek God’s blessing for them. One is not saying, “Heal, be with, bless my family member” to the exclusion of all the other patients in the hospital. You are not seeking other doctors and nurses to be less-effective or loving with other patients. No, you pray for a family member because of your particular relationship.
In the same way, when one is a citizen of a city, county, state and nation, one has a responsibility born out of relationship to those places. This is particularly true in a democratic republic such as ours. The statement “God bless America” is really a prayer, it is a plea, and a request for God’s blessing to be upon us.
There are two quick principles I think should be clear to us all as a result of our praying “God bless America.” The first is something I borrow from Oswald Chambers in his devotional “My Utmost for His Highest.” In one of his devotionals, Chambers writes that prayer doesn’t change God so much as it changes us. In praying “God bless America,” each of us might be the one that God uses to answer that prayer. God may bless our nation by turning our hearts toward our nation to bless it and serve it, to help it be more just and by serving our fellow citizens.
The second is a biblical principle found both in the teaching of Jesus and at the very founding of the people of Israel. Jesus said, “to whom much is given, much is expected,” and in Genesis God calls Abraham and his descendants to bless others just as he and they have been blessed. So, when seeking God’s blessing, we should also accept the responsibility to bless others. While we are not perfect, the American people have given more and shared more with the world than any other. So it might be true that to some degree when we ask for God to bless America, we really are seeking the blessing of all.
This Independence Day, I hope that many others join me in seeking God’s blessing for America, and as for me, that also means me doing my part to bless my fellow citizens and all those God gives me to bless.
The Rev. Albert Gillin is senior pastor of Walla Walla Presbyterian Church. Contact him at 509-525-1093 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by email at email@example.com.