I recently heard the “Star Spangled Banner.” This is actually an uncommon experience for me so I was able to really appreciate the strengths of the song properly sung.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave?
It is a song of triumph, no doubt; a song of assurance, confidence, victory, necessary and inevitable success! But if that success actually seems so obvious and assured as the song presents, the song completely loses its power. Only when sung over a vision of good men dying and hope darkly clouded does the song have force.
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air
And that got me thinking. What if we didn’t win? Would we still sing this song? Should we?
Perhaps some examples of the question: Should the defeated French keeping singing the song of their land?
Of course they should. But they won in the end, didn’t they? So what if they didn’t win?
What about the Boers? They did not win.
What about the American Confederacy, the South that shall rise again? What about the American Indians? Should they be singing their “Star Spangled Banner”?
A lot of us Americans have roots in people who lost; cast-offs and rejects from Europe. They say that everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s day, but nearly all of these erstwhile Irish have no idea what the Irish struggle is and no sympathy for it; it’s a lot of bloody fighting and dying and all rather pointless; why don’t they grow up and join the modern world? And we’ve forgotten, really, that the first European settlers here were fugitives and losers. No matter what people and nation we belong to now, sometime in our past our people were a defeated people, their hope was cast down, and their song has been forgotten.
Any Amercian who expresses undying loyalty to his country is actually speaking of a very short-lived thing, as such things go. America is an infant nation in nation-years. We are like a married couple celebrating our constant faithfulness on our second anniversary; nice as far as it goes but really not the time to be speaking of long-lasting devotion.
Let us take a second look at patriotism. The concept derives from the notion of the fatherland and hence from the role and person of the father. Right here, then, on the etymology of the word, the Christian ought to stop and think. To be a patriot is to do the will of your father.
And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” [Luke 2:49]
Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father” [John 8:39-41]
Christians will all agree that God is our father and his kingdom is our fatherland. But we don’t all agree on how this affects our allegiance to the kingdoms of this world. The most prevalent opinion seems to be that these allegiances occupy seperate categories, like the alliegance to a sports team and to the country, or to the state government and national government; that is, it is possible to be a loyal supporter of each, and if any conflict of interest should arise, the greater prevails.
It would be wrong to say the kingdom of God is not categorically different than the kingdoms of the world. But, if Christians are supposed to be categorically different altogether, the question still pertains.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” [John 3:3]
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered tot he Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” [John 19:36]
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Fo those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. [Hebrews 11:13-15]
These all died in faith, not having recieved the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them. Doesn’t this sound like the very sentiment of the Revolutionary War patriots? Indeed the Christian hope through despair, through seeming total defeat, is useful for bolstering morale of any army, and has accordingly been conscripted into many and conflicting military sentiments.
But our hope is not in the constancy of a flag or in a disembodied set of ideals; it is in the bodily ressurrection of our King and his ascension to his throne over his kingdom where he now reigns. Christ is alive, he is now reigning, and his kingdom has come. These are all central tenets to the gospel. And his kingdom is opposed by all of the kingdoms of the world.
If it helps, I submit that the kingdom of Christ is as real and present now as the United States was during the darkest days of the Revolutionary War, or later when the “Defense of Fort McHenry” was written. The downtrodden state that the Kingdom of Christ in this world appears to be in is not for any lack of power of the king, but that his kingdom bears wounds and stripes just as he willingly bore on his own body. His resurrection is his declaration of assured victory, his emancipation proclamation in which we can truly hope; but the great mystery is that he chooses, yet a little while longer, that his kingdom should appear subject to his enemies. This is his great grace and mercy and love to his enemies: there is still time for you to surrender!
Therefore, while it is appropriate for us to sing songs of his victory, it is a victory that we see still through blood and fire and death and dark clouds. Therefore it is also appropriate for us to sing songs of wailing and desolation. We in America are the few, the very few, who are not in danger of our lives and our liberty day by day. It is our people who are scattered abroad in every nation. It is our people who have no land to call their own. It is our people, who are ruled by strange kings, kings whose ears are bent by perverse men who whisper to them laws that are against us. We are Israel in exile. If for a brief time the laws favor us in this strange land we are living in, thank God; but we still have cause for tears.
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill .
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-
he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
So I don’t think Christian patriotism has anything to do with the United States of America. I say this without any particular antipathy to America; it is not anti-American any more than it is anti-French or anti-first-settlers-of-Greenland or anti-Roman. Do you know who the first settlers of Greenland were? Do you know what their patriotic songs were? Do you care?
I don’t advocate antagonism or sedition towards America. I don’t think a Biblically sound case can be made for singling out America for any kind of criticism. Rather I think that we ought to have all the respect and care for this nation we live in as Abraham did for the Canaanites. It is a land and a nation that has been good to us. But, as it says in Hebrews, it is not our land.
A patriot can live honorably and courteously in any land. But he lives his life for the land of his father.
I Will Sing
I will sing for the meek
For those who pray with their very lives for peace
Though they’re in chains for a higher call
Their mourning will change into laughter when the nations fall
In spirit poor
In mercy rich
They hunger for Your righteousness
Their hearts refined into purity
Lord let me shine for them
Lord let me sing
Lord let me shine for them
Lord let me sing