Reflecting on Independence Day leaves me filled with complex and conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I am inspired by the vision that motivated the founding of America. The idea that people can live free in a just society still captures the imaginations of people around the world, for it is both symptomatic of the sad shape in which most countries find themselves and emblematic of the hopes that all people have for their children.
I am also overwhelmed by the sacrifices that so many people have made in order to bring the vision that our country’s founders had to fruition. Obviously, we are talking about the men and women of our armed forces. Some have given their lives so that we can be free, while others have given their limbs, their sanity, their innocence, and so much more. But we are also talking about the police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and other first responders. They are on the front lines of ensuring that our country’s values are lived out, and they do their work at significant risk to their lives, their health, and their happiness. We are also talking about the judges, legislators, and other government officials who work each day to make sure that our society works well and who must restrain their own passions for power or vengeance in order to make sure that the rest of us can live in peace and safety.
On the other hand, I am troubled by the many and varied ways in which our country has not lived up to the vision and values that it claims. The list of our national sins is so long: from four hundred years of state-sponsored oppression of African-Americans to forty-five years of state-sanctioned infanticide through abortion on demand. I am not saying that the injustices committed by the United States are any more (or less) egregious than those committed by other empires (Britain, China, Turkey, etc.) I am simply saying that we have committed atrocities, and that they are grievous.
Moreover, there are ongoing circumstances in which our country finds itself seemingly unable to figure out how to get it right. Women are still routinely paid less than men, simply because of their sex. Immigrants still find themselves the subject of hate and mistrust, even (sometimes) when they have migrated to our country legally. Violence still plagues many neighborhoods, fueled by poverty, drug addiction, and domestic conflict. Debauchery is now considered a constitutionally protected right, while those who seek to live in a wholesome and disciplined way are undermined at every turn.
Some people may not appreciate the fact that I have brought up all of these ambiguities at a time when we are supposed to be celebrating. But, as Christians, I don’t think that we can do anything but acknowledge the ambiguity of our existence as Americans. Such an acknowledgement need not detract from the gratitude that we feel towards those who have sacrificed so much for our country, but it should motivate us to pray for our country. More importantly, it should motivate us to consider how we might work to make our country better and to commit ourselves to whatever course of action our Lord lays on our hearts.
It is also vital that we remember that we are citizens of the Kingdom of God before we are citizens of any other country or community. This means that our loyalties are to Christ and our values are set by Christ. When our loyalty is to Christ and our values are set by Christ, then we we will be able to see where our country is going wrong and have the courage not to participate in its transgressions.
The United States is not the New Jerusalem. It is not God’s Kingdom come on earth. We can be grateful for it, but we also need to be wary of it.