Lately it’s fallen out of favor to say “God bless America.” Why? Because it’s assumed that saying that is chauvinistic, and saying that the United States is better than everyone else, and therefore deserves to be blessed more than anyone else.
But I don’t know about that, and the reason that I don’t know about that has to do with children’s prayers.
Imagine little Suzie, just before she goes to bed, finishing off her nightly prayers with “and God bless Mommy, and Daddy, and Grandma, and Grandpa, and Uncle Albert, and Aunt Beth…” Do any of us have any problem with that? Do we have a problem with little Suzie asking God to bless the people she loves? Of course not! In fact, it makes perfect sense for her to do so, because she loves them.
Now let’s go across town where a similar scene is playing out at little Bobby’s house. He finishes off his prayers by saying “and God bless Mom, and Dad, and Nana, and Grandpa, and Uncle Eddie, and Aunt Martha…” Do we assume that Bobby is asking God to bless is parents more than Suzie’s parents? Of course not! Do we accuse Bobby of asking God to bless his Uncle Eddie and Aunt Martha instead of Suzie’s Uncle Albert and Aunt Beth? Again I say “of course not!” I believe that most of us have been taught that God’s capacity for blessing is infinite, so his blessing Bobby’s Aunt Martha in no way diminishes the amount of blessing he can give to Suzie’s Aunt Beth. There is definitely more than enough of God’s blessing to go around.
So if we can ask God to bless the people we love, why do so many people think it’s wrong to ask him to bless the country we love?
I suppose it’s because many of us have a mixed-up idea of what “blessing” means.
To be sure, the word has many definitions. A quick check at Wiktionary shows that blessing is often used to mean approval, good fortune, or divine aid. I suppose I can see where people might have problems with asking God’s approval on America, after all, not everything we do is worthy of approval. But for that matter, that applies to everyone else, including Bobby’s mom and dad. Somehow I’m not thinking that that’s what Bobby, Suzie, or the rest of us are really thinking.
How about the second definition of good fortune? I’m sure that Bobby would like his parents to have the good fortune to never get cancer. But I’m also pretty sure that he’d like Suzie’s parents to have the same good fortune (especially if they meet later on in life and get married). Isn’t it OK for us to ask that the United States has good fortune…as long as it’s not at the expense of someone else [exceptions apply here for fighting the Nazis during World War II]?
What about the third definition? How could anyone argue with asking for divine aid? I suppose they could if they saw it as the religious version of good fortune.
But there’s one other definition that Wiktionary doesn’t list. It’s divine care. Now you might argue that divine care and divine aid are pretty much the same thing, and I would argue that the fact that you said “pretty much” means that there is a difference.
Think about it; do wise, caring parents let their kids run rampant and get away with anything they want? Not in my book. Do they try to bring up their kids to be kind, caring, and thoughtful adults? Ya, you betcha. When they find out that their kid has been bullying others, do they sit there in denial, and possibly even make excuses, or do they deal with their kid right then and there? I believe it’s the latter. When their kid screws up badly and “fesses up” to it, are those parents their with their love and support, as they try to make sure that the kid doesn’t make the same mistake again? Of course.
So…if asking for God’s blessing means asking for his divine care, rather than his approval or blind aid, we’re asking for him to treat us as a wise, caring parent would. Correcting us when we’re wrong; letting us learn how to deal with the neighborhood bully ourselves, rather than always stepping in himself; and trying to make us into better people; then where is the problem with asking God to bless America?
Or any country, for that matter. After all, Jesus says in Matthew 5:44 that we should love our enemies and pray for those who hate us.
We should pray that they’ll be blessed. Equally as blessed as we are.
And so, with the Fourth of July coming up, I will say God bless America. I’ll also say God bless Canada. And Honduras. And Zimbabwe. And Sweden. And Cuba. And Israel. And Iran. And China. And so on.
Heck, I think that even though it’s a little out of season, I’ll borrow a line from Charles Dickens, and say…
God bless us every one.