Patriotism or Idolatry?

We have a natural affinity for those who are closest to us:  our spouse, our children, our church, our school, community, country, etc. We are attached to them emotionally and otherwise precisely because they are ours.

All this is well and good. It is as it should be. God created us to live in just these kinds of covenantal relationships. We should love them and feel a sense of loyalty to them and even take pride in them. But such love, loyalty, and pride have their limits. They must not exceed our love and loyalty to God.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matt. 10:37).

If this is so—that not even the love we have for the members of our immediate family (as great as that love is and should be) may take precedence over our commitment to the Lord—how much more is it true of every other relationship, including our love of country?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been proudly flying the stars and stripes this week. I get choked up when I hear the national anthem. I am amazed at (and grateful for) our nation’s military power and the commitment and courage of those who serve in uniform.

I trust that many of you feel the same way. As I said, all of this is well and good. But we must never allow patriotism to become idolatry. 

Idolatry? 

Yes, idolatry. Idols are idols even when they are not made of wood and stone. Whatever we love, fear, trust in, or obey more than God—in other words, whatever has the greatest influence in our affections and decision-making—has in fact become an idol to us.

We may (and ought to) apply Jesus’ words to this very subject:  “Whoever loves his country more than me is not worthy of me.” We must never elevate America above God and take the attitude:   “America right or wrong.” Nor should we assume that we are automatically in possession of God’s blessing since after all, we’re America. God doesn’t exist to bless America (although we should humbly petition him to do so). Rather, America exists to serve God. To the extent that she does so, let us be proud with a godly pride. To the extent that she does not, let us play the part of a prophet:

Cry aloud; do not hold back;
            lift up your voice like a trumpet;
and declare to my people their transgression,
            to the house of Jacob their sins (Isa. 58:1).

So let us love our country by celebrating that which is good in it, and laboring to correct whatever does not meet with God’s approval.

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