This weekend will mark the 244 anniversary of the beginning of the country that we call home, the United States of America. It will likely bring with it the usual cookouts, celebrations, fireworks and abundance of red, white, and blue. Certainly the pandemic will cancel many of the normal gatherings, but it will not cancel the celebration of friends and family enjoying the many things that make our country what it is.
I remember going to the golf course every year growing up in Austin, TX on the fourth for a big cookout and to watch fireworks. The course ran along lake Austin and fireworks would be shot off from the lake while many sat on the grass of one of the fairways. My dad or granddad would usually say something about remembering that not everyone in the world has the freedom that we have and so there’s reason to celebrate. I really cared more about a good hamburger, ice cream, and fireworks, but I understood that the country we call home is a unique place with many privileges that the rest of the world didn't have. And playing golf at the course for the few days after was always a fun search to see who could find the biggest remains of the shells that had exploded a few days before. In this season of my life, celebrating America seemed obvious and assumed.
Does Jesus Change That?
Since beginning to follow Jesus in college, there has always been a question for me of how a Christian ought to celebrate the things of this world. Surely God is pleased with holidays and celebrations since we know He commanded many of them for His people. The celebration was cause to remember, specifically remember the things God had done. But what does that mean for other holidays? Holidays that are not meant to remember the things of God, but the things of man?
July 4th is a perfect example of this question. Of course there are two extremes that will appeal to some. One could think of America’s as a holy nation, one that God has chosen and blessed in a unique and special way. For them, worshipping America is a no-brainer for it is equal to the kingdom of God; and the fourth of July could sit in equal standing to the Passover. On the other extreme, one can view this country as a spiritual evil that must be renounced and done away with completely if we are to follow Jesus. Taking time to remember America’s founding, let alone celebrating it, would be an inexcusable sin.
But, as with many things, extremes aren’t usually accurate or helpful. Certainly, there are many things that can and should be celebrated about our country. We live every day in a world of freedom, opportunities, resources, and wealth that are only dreamed about in past times or other parts of the world. And yet we know this country was founded on, and prospered because of, awful things like slavery, theft, and oppression. Many of these continue to this day and are deep rooted evils that are at the very core of what America is. To say we can celebrate everything, or that we can't celebrate anything, would be an incomplete view.
Created & Fallen
There are two realities that we must remember when encountering EVERYTHING in this world. All things in this world are both created and fallen.
When I say everything is created I mean everything that we see and interact with has the mark of God’s glory in it. All things were created by God, created for his glory, and to display His greatness. This means that we can look at everything and see God in it, because God created it to display himself. Take the role of a parent for example. God created that. Moms and dads come from God. He could have populated the world and created people any way He wanted to, but He chose this way! There is no living thing that does not come from a parent (stop and think on that!). Because God’s glory is displayed in His creation, when ANY child (or adult) looks at their parents they are looking at something that displays God’s glory. God is life giving, God is miraculous, God is nurturing, God provides, God protects, God teaches and trains, God disciplines. All of these, and countless others, can be known about God through His creation of the parent.
But all things are also fallen. And this means that all things have broken the perfect display of God’s glory and instead display an opposite image of evil instead of good. There is nothing that is not stained by the mark of sin. Sin makes everything that was meant to display God, distorted and disfigured to the point that it's often unrecognizable. Going back to the role of a parent, we saw how it displays God, and yet we all know, from stories and our own experience, that our families fell far short of displaying all of God’s glory. In many ways, they were pictures of the exact opposite. Instead of a relationship governed by life, love, goodness, care, compassion, they were ruled by anger, neglect, fear, harshness, disappointment, or abuse.
All things in this world are both created and fallen. And this includes nations and governments.
God receives the Glory
The amazing thing is that God uses both of these to draw people to Himself. He declares LOUDLY, that He is the fountain and the source of life and satisfaction. God gets the glory at all times. All things were made for His glory. God is glorified when things are good and when things are bad. At the top of the mountain, we glorify God for His goodness and provision. At the bottom of the valley, we glorify God for His compassion and redemption.
Revealed & Concealed
When a parent models God’s character, God proclaims the GOOD NEWS that He is like that, only more. When they go against God's character, God proclaims the GOOD NEWS that He is not like that, He's better!
When we are satisfied by something in this world, like a group of close friends that love each other, God says, “you love this because this is what I am like, and I made you for me!” But when we are dissatisfied by that same group of friends, because they turned on each other, God says, “you hate this because that's not what I am like, and you won’t be satisfied by anything less than me.”
Let’s call this the revealed and concealed display of God’s character. All creation does both. It reveals God's character by acting like Him, and therefore, shows what He is like. It also conceals God's character by not acting like Him, and therefore, shows that He is better.
The call for believers to grow in His likeness, is a call to reveal God's character in the way they live. The call for believers to have discernment is to be able to see how God's glory is revealed and concealed in the things of this world. The call to pursue justice is to reveal God where He has been concealed.
What about the fireworks?!
You might be saying right now, “I thought this was about the Fourth of July?” And you are right. The point is, when we celebrate the things of this world, as the people of God, we must make sure we are celebrating God's creation and not the world's fallenness. To do this we should recognize how America both reveals and conceals the character of God.
The ways that this country directly displays the goodness of God are worth celebrating! And it doesn’t have to be just the big things. You might find great joy that America simply feels like home. This is a picture of the joy that the people of God will feel when we are at home in the Kingdom of God.
Likewise, the ways our country indirectly displays the goodness of God are certainly worth noticing. It is clear to see right now that justice is not equally served for all people, and the prosperity of many is based on the exclusion of others. We cannot ignore this and definitely cannot celebrate it. Instead we must recognize theses things so we can stand against them. This recognition also protects us from worshipping the creation instead of the Creator. His Kingdom is better, He is our true hope, He is our true satisfaction, and He will one day set all of these things right.
Take some time
So, spend some time this Fourth of July to think about these two realities. Think about specific ways that America does both. Create in your mind a deeper understanding of what you, as a child of God, are celebrating and what you aren't. What points you to God by revealing and what points you to God by concealing. To reject celebration is to reject God's original intent to be displayed through His creation. But to celebrate everything without regard is to make America an idol, failing to recognize the grave offenses of our nation before our Creator.
I’ll suggest three areas that I’d encourage you to consider, but you could do it with almost anything. How does America reveal and conceal God's character in
1. Opportunities/Freedom, 2. Resources/Wealth, and 3. Love/Justice? The question is not is America good or bad, the question is how is America good and bad.
(To get an even more full and complete picture consider thinking about these things from the perspective of a person of a different gender, class, ethnicity, etc.).
These are just some areas that can lead you to celebrate our country because it is a created display of our Creator, and also lead you to deep joy in God because the brokenness of this country does not represent our eternal home. Being a citizen in His kingdom is infinitely greater than the broken earthly nation we find ourselves in now. And as you celebrate our country this Fourth of July, I pray you would find yourself more and more satisfied in God, Himself.