Today is July 4th — Independence Day here in the United States. Matt, a podcast listener, writes in to ask this: “Pastor John, obviously as Christians, we are to live as strangers, exiles, aliens, and pilgrims on this earth. Is there an appropriate place in the Christian life for patriotism?”
Yes, there is. And it is right. We are pilgrims. We are exiles. We are refugees. We are sojourners: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Or look at Philippians 3:20: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” So the question is framed rightly. We are citizens of heaven. We are sojourners and pilgrims on the earth. And that is owing to the fact that this world is fallen, not the fact that it is created. We are going to spend eternity in a created world.
But Satan won’t be the god of that world anymore. That is what makes us feel so alien here is that the god of this world is Satan. He holds such extensive sway. The world is permeated with sin. It makes us feel like we are not at home. We are just aching to be done with sin and be in the presence of holiness. So when I say we are aliens and exiles and sojourners and pilgrims, I don’t mean that the earth is a place we despise. I mean that the structures we find ourselves in are so permeated with sin. We want something new.
Special Love for Fatherland
However, God means for us to be enmeshed in this world. We are not of the world, but we are in the world, and we are supposed to be in it. We are in a city, and we are in a state, and we are in a country, and we are in a continent. And if I ask, “What is patriotism in this enmeshment?” my answer is that patriotism is a special love for fatherland. It could be a city, like love your city in a special way. Or it could be a state, a country, a tribe, an ethnicity. And that love is different from the general love that Christians have for everybody or for the whole earth. And the reason I think that it is good to have special affections for a homeland is that the Bible seems to point in that direction in several ways.
Here is an example. Paul said in Galatians 6:10, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” It is as though there is this specialness about those that are close to you. And there is a kind of affection for them that is different. Or consider 1 Timothy 5:8: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for the members of his household, he has denied the faith.”
It seems like it is right not just to have this general love spread over the whole world and everybody has exactly the same affections from us, but rather there is an “especially” — and we know that Paul in Romans 9:3 said, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” There is something about this flesh — this being bound together in a family way or a cultural way with a group — that makes us love them with an unusual kind of affection.
And as I was thinking about it, C.S. Lewis gave me some help because Lewis wrote this book called The Four Loves: philos (friendship), eros (sex), agape (the love of God), and the one that I think is relevant here, storge. Storge is affection. It is what you feel for a pair of slippers that your wife thinks you should have thrown away a long time ago but they fit just right. Or it is the affection a kid feels for an old, raggedy doll even though it is just no good for anything except to that kid. Or think of a sweater with holes in it that you wore to read and study for years, or an old tree where you carved your initials as a young couple and you just love to go back to that tree. You love to watch that tree. That tree means more than other trees. Or the lagoon where Noël and I were engaged is a special place.
“God created us to be in skin and in languages and in cultures.”
So there is a kind of affection for a tree and for a city and for a fatherland, a language, a culture. Why? Because it fits you. When you leave it — get on a plane, go to another country — there can be excitement and challenge and stimulation and you may even find those other cultures superior in some ways to your own, but when you come home it fits like the slippers fit. It is just full of good associations like the tree where you carved your initials.
So it seems to me that this is good and that the goodness is implied in the Bible. God created us to be in skin and in languages and in cultures. He doesn’t mean for us to despise our skin and our languages and our cultures, but to be at home in them and to feel good about them.
Scripture Implies Patriotism
And when I think of other passages that point in the direction of patriotism, Romans 13 surely implies some kind of patriotism, because Romans 13:1, when it says, “be subject to the governing authorities,” implies that a government, a country, a state has the right to use the sword to maintain order and to defend itself against aggression. And if it does use the sword, it means that God is saying it has the right to be. And if it has a right to exist and to preserve what it is, then the people who live there give approval to that. They say, “We like that. We are glad that we exist and that we are culturally the way we are. They can say that without putting down other cultures. You don’t have to be negative about England because you are pro-America in the sense of loving some of the distinctives that God has made in this place.
“God is our King and no man. His kingdom is our final allegiance.”
So I think I would probably wrap it up by saying, whatever form your patriotism takes, let it be with a deep sense that we are more closely bound to brothers in Christ in other countries and other cultures than we are to our closest, unbelieving compatriot in the fatherland. God is our King and no man. His kingdom is our final allegiance. But under that banner, it is right to be thankful that God gave us our land freely, thankful that people paid a high price to preserve it, and thankful that we have these slippers that feel so comfortable.