Many political speakers—both Republican and Democratic—end their speeches with the words, “God bless America!” This brings questions to my mind:
- What do they mean by those three words? Are some parroting words that to them are empty of meaning but perceived as politically expedient? Are some repeating a mantra that is to them essentially a superstition? I think when most people say “God bless” they are invoking prosperity, protection, guidance/wisdom, and well being on the recipient. I personally do want all those things for the country in which I was born, in which I have lived my life, the home of my children and grandchildren.
- Whose blessing are they invoking? We can no longer take for granted that a person asking for the blessing of God, is thinking of the God of the Bible—both Old and New Testaments—the Creator, Father God whom Jesus came to reveal. Even Christians can find themselves idolizing a lesser “god” and loving the blessings (such as wealth and influence) more than the Blesser.
- Why do we ask for God’s blessings? Even those who put their faith in an economic, humanistic, or social ideology may say these words for “good measure,” “just in case,” to win the following of a block of voters. Or, maybe they really believe God wants to bless America. Maybe some even feel we need God’s blessings. We pledge allegiance (many of us still do) to “one nation under God.” Doesn’t this show we acknowledge, want, and need the help of a Higher Power? We need more-than-human help to achieve aspirations, defeat evil, protect against enemies, educate and prepare and provide for future generations; steward natural resources and care for creation; we have a “charge to keep.”
- How does God bless nations? It seems, according to the biblical record, that God blesses nations because he has a plan for them, because of the faith of their members, because of their humbling themselves and seeking his help and presence, and because of his love for all his creation. He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. He gives manna, he calls out leaders, and he diverts disasters, saying to evil, “This far and no more.” He gave us Jesus who taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”
- What does God’s blessing look like? Through his providence, his creation, his mercy, he gives to us not what we deserve, but what pleases him, what furthers his purposes and plans and increases his “kingdom.”
- Why does God bless people and nations? According to the Bible, God’s blessings are meant to lead us to repentance, encouraging us to return to right relatedness to him, others, ourselves, and creation. God’s very nature is love. He is working with all things to empower us to live in goodness. He really cares about us, as he equally cares about all individuals and people groups and nations of this world he created. He blesses us so we can know his love and goodness. He blesses us so we can in turn bless others.
- What responsibilities come with God’s blessings? First, we have the responsibility to seek his blessings. We are given the responsibility—the ability to respond—and receive/take the blessings bestowed. That may involve periods of waiting and watching. We have the responsibility to acknowledge God’s blessings, to give thanks for them. We are given the task of holding firmly but lightly God’s blessings, so we can share them with other Peoples and nations, so we can pass them on to the next generations. We are given the responsibility of being faithful stewards of the blessings of God, working together for the well-being of all.
As one whose family generations have lived in America since Revolutionary times, have joined the Westward expansion to seek opportunity and fulfill what they perceived as God’s call, I have been a recipient of the blessings God has bestowed on this great land and nation. I have lived near the mountains, on the prairie, and beside the ocean “white with foam.” I grew up saying, with my hand on my heart, “I pledge allegiance to … one nation under God” and singing at the top of my lungs, “God bless America.” When I said those words, I was acknowledging the Almighty God as the source of all good and hoping for his favor.
I believe, generally, when we say “God bless America,” we are still invoking the God of the Bible. I also believe we sometimes forget that the Bible says God’s blessings come with responsibilities and that we aren’t blessed to feel good. May we never get so “blessed” and comfortable that we aren’t touched by the plight of the poor and oppressed. May we never become so complacent with our great blessings that we quit feeling our need of continued help from above. May we never allow our blessings to become idols and find ourselves worshiping the gift instead of the Giver, that we don’t let our great blessings lead us to pride. We must remember that we are blessed to bless others.
God bless America!