There are some phrases we’re all familiar with if we read the Old Testament of the Bible…
The God of Israel
The God of Jacob
The God of Jerusalem
We’re told that Jerusalem is “His holy city,” especially in the Psalms. So much of the poetry and songs revolve around that city, the Temple, and the God who has claimed it as His own. Who dwells there. Who protects the place and the people.
For the Ancients, this wasn’t a weird thought. In the polytheistic societies that surrounded Israel thousands of years ago, each city had its own patron god. It was that god’s protection that led to prosperity; it was that god’s abandonment that led to its demise. If one city and its king defeated another, the assumption was that their god had triumphed as well…but also that by taking over the city, one became the new darling of its god. Victors would incorporate worship of that town’s god into their own worship, but also introduce their new, stronger god to its citizens.
Then there was Israel. Israel, who claimed “No, there is only one God. He is our God whether we win or lose. He is our God in exile. He is our God whether we’re in Israel, in Jerusalem, or in Babylon. He is our God when we prosper. He is our God when we starve.” And they dared to add something no other ancient society claimed about their gods: “He loves us. Everything He does is for love of us.”
As Christians, we still lay claim to that old covenant between God and Israel, even though many of us have no Jewish blood. Why? Because Christ’s blood fulfilled that covenant and extended it. The promise God gave to Abraham was not “and through you I’ll have one city to claim as my own.” He promised, “From you will come a nation, and through them, all the world will be blessed.” That’s how children in Sunday School can sing, “Father Abraham…” and claim him as their own patriarch. We were adopted into God’s family.
But…what does that mean in terms of nations?
It’s something I pondered, and then pondered some more as I heard so many Americans claiming, especially during the last election cycle, what basically amounted to God being the God of…America. I’ve read some HUGE bestselling books that spell out how America has taken on that old covenant with Israel for its own. How we’re the new Israel, more or less. And so He is our God. The God of our freedom, the God of our land. We pray His blessings upon us, from sea to shining sea.
We should pray for our nation–for our leaders, for our neighbors, for the people. But the idea of Christians claiming God as the God of their land comes with some definite problems. I’ve quite literally been chewing on this for a couple years, so let’s see how coherent I can be in parsing it, LOL.
First of all, what about the Christians who live in other countries? What do they think when Americans claim this? I can tell you, because I’ve heard from them–they’re offended. God is their God as much as He’s ours, after all. He adopted them too, whether they’re English or Spanish or Mexican or African or Scandinavian. He loves the Russian farmer as much as the Chinese factory-worker as much as the politician from D.C. Do we really think about that as we contemplate how proud we are to be American? Or have we linked where we live with the God we serve?
Last month, I read a book called The Lamb’s Supper that put a new lens on the book of Revelation for me–but in fact, a very old lens. It talks about how the book makes sense when viewed as a liturgy, and how, in fact, nearly every step of liturgy is there in Revelation–they informed each other, built each other, as a matter of fact. In Revelation, we see the New Jerusalem descend. The new dwelling of God. It’s part of the new heaven, the new earth. And do you know what it is?
The “holy nation” that Peter talks about in 1 Peter 2–what is that? Is it Israel? No. It’s the Church.
That is the nation to whom we should be most loyal. Not America or Canada or Britain, not Mexico or Germany or Australia, not Portugal or the Netherlands or Uganda. The Church. Those other places…those are where we live. Where we serve. Those are the neighbors we’re called to love and show the ways of God. We are supposed to have affection for our homeland–it’s built into the human DNA. God made us that way–tribal. But we have to be careful. We have to be careful not to begin thinking we’re superior, that God loves us more, has favored us more, has blessed us more. We have to be careful we haven’t begun to think of ourselves, as citizens of a human nation, as the caretakers of God’s Word and His promises.
We are that–but not because we’re American or Western or Eastern or even Israeli. We are caretakers of His Word and His promises by virtue of the cross. By virtue of being members of His bride, the Church.
In Back to Church by pastor Cara Luecht, she asks, “Are you an American who happens to be a Christian, or are you a Christian who happens to be an American?” That, I think, is a great focusing question. Because He isn’t the Lord of our land–He is (or should be) the Lord of our hearts. When we are baptized into the family of God, we don’t gain a citizenship in an earthly country–we gain a citizenship in Heaven.
God is still the God of Jacob. He is the God of Israel. Jerusalem is still His holy city–but Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem that John saw descend, is us, my friends. We are the Church. We are His dwelling place. Where we live…that’s nothing but a circumstance. It’s not a definition.
Before I’m a West Virginian, before I’m an American, before I’m a Westerner, before I’m even an Earther, I am this:
I am a Christian. All else is just smoke and vapors.
Thank you for this. I have been watching the growing threat of Christian nationalism which is not Christian at all. Jesus did not call us to enforce our version of beliefs on others. He called us to be children of God, and to act toward others as His hands and feet and heart.
So true, Carol. I’ve been watching the same with the same dread. I take consolation in the fact that there are still those who see the truth and recognize the deception!
Very good point. I’ve lived in countries where the fact that I’m a foreigner is obvious even at first glance, and it has made me realize that’s pretty much how it should be for Christians in this world. Even in our own native country (whichever one that is), we as Christians live as foreigners. Certainly we seek the peace and prosperity of our country of residence, even as Jeremiah encouraged the exiles in Babylon to do. But like our ancient brothers and sisters in faith mentioned in Hebrews, we still long for our true country in heaven.