Exiles: Joy and Mourning on the 4th of July
How can I celebrate a nation that stabs and poisons and vacuums the brains out of its unborn and hails it as virtue and justice? How can I celebrate a country that is addicted to scandal, whose love for celebrity is only eclipsed by its love to revel in every sordid detail of a celebrity’s moral implosion? And what of the disregard for facts, the passion for punditry and the affection for every degree and shade of snark imaginable? Or a younger generation where 15% of elementary school students, 40% of middle schoolers and 65% of high schoolers visit the school nurse not for Tylenol but for free and secretive condoms?
Homosexual marriage in New York, illegal immigrants streaming across our borders in Arizona, groping or body scanning a prerequisite to getting on an airplane, debt so great that even the monthly interest payment is a figure so large that no elementary schools student would know how many zeros to put on the whiteboard behind it. Divorce rates unbelievably high. Even our diversions rocked by scandals of steroids and rigged voting systems and dirty agents and money that just disappears without a trace.
A nation that does not read, except for romance novels and porn. A nation that does not parent, except for turning on the most recent Disney princess movie. A nation that masks all of its health problems by turning to yet a new set of pills as opposed to reconsidering its policy of eat and eat and eat. A nation that is addicted to consuming $30,000 cars and million dollar firework shows and $100 jeans while shrugging off any kind of responsibility for the people whose homes are the kinds of landfills all their consumer goods go to fill. And beyond all of this a culture that trumpets how great the American way of life is. How we love freedom and have God on our side, as we struck a mighty blow for his kingdom by winning the fight to keep his name in our pledge and on our coins.
As with Jesus’ righteousness, the world could never contain the book of our sins. And not individual sins, but corporate. We do not like to think of corporate guilt, but it is a real and present theme throughout the Scriptures. Kneeling in his window, face set towards the home he was torn from, face set towards the graveyard of so many of his family and friends, righteous Daniel opens his heart to the Lord. “We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets…To you, O Lord belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel” (Dan 9:5-7). Daniel’s eyes moisten at the sins of his people. He is haunted by the evil done by his nation. And his prayers are not those of the just, but of the condemned. Even though he listened to the prophets and did righteously.
But this shouldn’t be rain on the fireworks, flies on the potato salad, or gopher holes on the baseball diamond. Even as we acknowledge the evils of our society, we celebrate the goodness of God by having us live in America. A contradiction? No. A paradox? Perhaps. A good deal of Christian maturity is being able to live a life shaped by paradoxes, understanding that we live in a broken and evil world. If we wait to rejoice until all is made right, we’ll be wearing black until we die. Good and evil can exist side-by-side, and there is no contradiction in celebrating the good while abhorring the evil.
We live in a nation where proclaiming Christ isn’t synonymous with having your head removed from your body. We live in a nation of (mostly) peaceful streets and law and order. We live in a nation where there is a care and concern for the less fortunate, where the corpses of the trampled aren’t left on the sidewalks. Our police are our heroes, not villains. Our soldiers are not murdering, raping, pillaging hordes. Our presses turn out thousands of God-glorifying books, and twitter hums with theological discussion for the sake of sharpening one another. None of these nullify anything said before. But we cannot live in a purely black and white world. Things are not only good or only evil. We know that from peering into the depths of our own hearts.
This 4th of July, let us celebrate and let us mourn. Let us be thankful for the good gifts the Lord has given us, for he has given us many good things. But let our celebration be realistic as well. This is not our home country. We celebrate as exiles, tinged by the mourning felt by all those who live in a country both theirs and not their own. God bless the USA, yes. But God bless his kingdom most of all.