When I say the word “love” each of you have phrases, people, things, ideas, and more that come to mind. In this third of a series of three posts, I want to consider what love of country ought to look like and how crucial it is to sustaining our nation.
We look at the challenges, disappointments, and angst we feel about nearly every aspect of this country’s current state. Some of us have given up. We can be tempted to believe this is “the worst of times”. Whether or not that is true is likely debatable and not yet settled.
Those who suffered through the hard first winter after landing on the shores of this land might disagree. The trip had been tortuous. Many had died and now they arrived in November in the beginning of winter without lodging or adequate food, but God would have provision in an Indian named Squanto.
Those who risked their lives and livelihood to stand up to England and declare independence might also challenge our current view. How might Abigail Adams respond after the cost of years of separation from her husband in service of their country as she sought to run their farm, raise their children, face small pox, and also the threat of the British?
Abraham Lincoln stood at the intersection that would determine if this country would survive when half of it seceded over the desire to maintain freedom to own, buy, and sell slaves brought here against their will.
Lincoln stood to give his inaugural address on March 4, 1861, with sharpshooters on the roofs surrounding the area in the wake of rumors of plots to assassinate or kidnap the president. He stands determined to face what is ahead of him unflinchingly and as he closes says these words:
“I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touches, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Eric Metaxas says in If You Can Keep It, “Lincoln is speaking of something ineffable, something beyond mere logic or law…Lincoln is speaking of the thing that makes a people a people, that causes them to be something more than individuals living on the same piece of land or individuals under the same governmental authority and beholden to the same laws. What he speaks of has to do with a deep feeling that is yet itself more than a mere feeling. It is a uniquely human thing that cannot be put into a document or written into laws.”
When we look more closely the idea of the love for the United States would be the thing to heal us, bring us through the very dark days of slavery and the Civil War, and into the future we have been given.
Unfortunately, those have not been our only dark days. There have been many times since that each of us (even without a great knowledge of history) can list. How can we love a country that has had flaws and been guilty of so much?
We must not forget that as Dr. Os Guinness says, “Liberty requires the spirit of liberty and must remain forever as a habit of the heart.”
In the midst of so many wars, crises, scandals, and disasters, we seemed to steadily hold to a less negative view, a more loving view, that sustained us and gave us hope until about 50 years ago.
As the war in Vietnam escalated we began to view ourselves negatively. We looked over our shoulders to how we had treated Native Americans, the toleration of slavery, treatment of women, and horrible injustices that our nation had not abolished in total.
It was likely a good thing to look back and see the truth and own our part in the marred history, but it also brought division to us. Some of us started to only see the bad things America had done and continued to do and began to develop a narrative that made us the villain both at home and abroad. Others of us determined to only look at the good things and see us as the savior of the world. That has been the problem and soil of the division that has grown into where we stand today.
Metaxas states unequivocally, “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously.” He goes on to say, “The only question is whether, having seen both, we can repent of the one and rejoice and be inspired by the other. Or whether we will let one of them tempt us so far away from the other that we have a deeply distorted view.”
As I read those words, they resonated deeply within my spirit that this is the real issue and where we stand. We do not understand love in its highest and best form. As believers, we fall prey to this tendency in love of country as well as love of one another while still unable to avoid realizing that is not what Jesus taught, modeled, or left us to live out until He returns.
I love what Metaxas says about that:
“…to love something is to see it as we think God would see it—rather than as we, fallen human beings, are inclined to see it. To love something is to see in it the hope and the promise that are in it, which our cynical, tired selves cannot see but which by God’s grace we can see. We do not fail to see the sins and failings, but we also see past them to the hope and the promise. Seeing the sins and failings is therefore not final and fatalistic. We see them but we see beyond them to the possibilities of goodness and forgiveness and redemption. We recognize ‘the story’s not over.’ We see the hope on the other side of where we are.”
That is our challenge and our call. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He is not telling us to love evil or to love evil in our enemies. Metaxas puts it this way, “He is telling us to love what is beyond that, to love the goodness in them that He sees and that He put there. He is telling us that if we love that good thing, it will grow.”
Let me leave you with these final words from Eric Metaxas:
“In other words, what we love we change toward good—by loving it. That is the only path forward, if we care about what is good. We must choose what we look at; and we must choose what we look beyond. But if our focus is on what is ugly and evil and dark, we will strangely strengthen the ugly and evil and dark.”
The founders of this country wrote a brilliant first chapter. What kind of chapter will this generation write? How will the story end?