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Patriotism is a strong emotional and psychological bond to one’s country. When humans feel strongly attached to something, they become willing to make sacrifices to protect whatever it is that they feel attached to. Once feelings of patriotism grow strong enough, you become willing to compromise your personal comfort physically, emotionally, psychologically and even spiritually for the sake of benefiting your country. In other words, you put your country above everything else in value, thus you feel it is right for you to be willing to kill, lie, cheat, steal, or even die for your country if that’s what your country wants.
In this post, we’re talking to those of you who can identify with the stream of logic we’ve just presented. Perhaps you’re serving in your country’s armed forces. Perhaps you’re a spy or some other kind of government agent. Whatever your situation is, you’ve been taught to believe that your own welfare is less important than the welfare of your country. You’ve been taught that you ought to be willing to give up your own life in order to accomplish your country’s current agendas.
Roll back the clock a couple of thousand years and we’ll find scores of Roman soldiers laying down their lives for the sake of the empire. Well, where is that empire today? It’s gone—along with the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonian Empire, and countless other countries and regions which all had their day of glory. The point is this: countries are temporary things. Countries are manmade concepts. Countries come and countries go. Should you really be willing to lay down your life for something as temporary as a country? How you answer this question will depend on the value system that you’re using. Your country wants you to use a value system in which the country comes first. There’s no surprise there. The world is filled with humans who organize into groups and then insist that their groups be assigned a greater value than human life. Street gangs are a great example of this. If your gang is attacked, you’re supposed to be willing to die for your brothers. But why? Because they say so. Don’t think: just go along with the program and let other humans tell you what matters. This is how it works in many human organizations. The world is filled with people who will tell you that the welfare of a particular organization is more important than you are, thus you are expendable. Well, how does this kind of value system compare to God’s value system?
As the Creator of all things, God assigns a value to everything He makes. And once He assigns a value to something, there’s just no arguing with Him, because He is the Supreme Authority. So what kind of value does God place on you? When it comes to the elements of this world—everything from animals and nature to countries and governments—where does God say that you rank in value? He puts you on the top of the list. God makes it quite clear that human beings are the most highly valued element of this world to Him. In fact, we are the only element of this world that He’s going to keep. At some point He’s going to call an end to Project Earth and destroy everything that’s here—everything except us. Humans will be preserved. God will move our souls on to Heaven or Hell where He will continue to sustain us forever because that’s how much He values us.
So what does all of this mean for you? It means that you now have a problem on your hands, because your country is using a value system that is not in alignment with God’s. God says that your life is more important than the survival of any political organization. So are we saying that you’re wrong to be serving your country? No, we’re not. Serving your country is just fine, but only if your priorities are right. You see, God isn’t just talking to you about how He values things. He also has some very strong opinions about how you should value things. When God expresses an opinion, it functions as a command, and God commands you to submit to Him as the Supreme Authority in your life. This means that as long as God isn’t expressing any problems about what your country is telling you to do, go ahead and do what your country wants. But should God start tapping your soul with conviction and telling you that He doesn’t want you to go on that mission or take that promotion or use that interrogation method or cover up that scheme or bury that report or sell those secrets or murder those people, well, then you’d better be listening to God.
As a human who is not in control of your own existence, there is only one wise way for you to approach life: you need to please your Creator. You need to be seeking His guidance, obeying His promptings, and respecting His Authority. Now maybe you think this is impossible to do in a human organization, because all human organizations are corrupt. Well, no, it’s certainly not impossible, because God isn’t handing you some long list of nitpicky commands and saying, “If you mess up in any area, we’re done.” This is how many Christians describe God, but most Christians barely know the God they talk about.
In real life, God is very easy to please, even within a system that is full of immorality and corruption. Succeeding with God does not mean that you have to go hide under a rock so that you can escape ever getting into a moral bind. Succeeding with God is simply a matter of not holding back in the area of soul submission. When you say to God, “I’ll only obey You, talk to You, or think about You when I find it convenient to do so,” that’s garbage. What kind of general would be pleased with a soldier who talks like this? When God speaks to your soul, He wants you to pay attention. He wants you to consider His approval to be infinitely more important than the approval of your commanding officer or government leaders. God is GOD—these people who you’re listening to are just created specks. A GOD infinitely outranks specks.
How can you say, “God wouldn’t want me to be a soldier,” until you take the time to ask Him for yourself and wait for Him to answer you? How can you say, “God wouldn’t want me to be a spy or a federal agent”? Have you asked Him for yourself? Have you ever sincerely sought His feedback on your current line of work? If you haven’t, then you need to. You also need to be open to God surprising you with the feedback He gives you.
TRYING TO AVOID BAD NEWS
A common reason that humans avoid asking God for His input on what they’re doing is that they’re worried that He’ll tell them not to do something that they really want to do. For example, young Todd joined the army so that he could get his college tuition paid for. Todd can’t afford to go to college on his own. He sees the army as his only hope of ever making it in life. With so much at stake, Todd is afraid to ask God what He thinks about Todd becoming a soldier. Todd just wants to do his time, get his schooling, and then catch up with God later on.
Then there’s Luke, who has always dreamed of being a member of the CIA. Now, after years of intensive training, Luke is functioning as an American spy. He’s going on secret missions. He’s got top security clearance. His very intense career has become his entire identity. What would he do if he quit? He wouldn’t even know who he was. With so much at stake, Luke is afraid to hear God convicting him about some of his assignments. So he tells himself that he’s being a good patriot no matter how conflicted he feels about the things he is doing.
So what’s wrong with these scenarios? Well, ignoring God doesn’t make Him go away, nor does it change the fact that He is the One we have to answer to in life. While Todd and Luke go about their business trying hard not to hear God talking to them, what is God doing? Is He going to sit back and say, “No sweat. I’ll just sit here watching television until you feel like talking to Me”? No, God is going to be much more aggressive than this because God loves Todd and He loves Luke and He wants these two men to get serious about relating with Him. To motivate them to stop pushing Him away, God is going to start escalating the problems in their lives. Those problems result in a lot of stress, which the men try to cope with by using various denial tactics. But God keeps pouring it on, and soon both men are feeling intensely miserable. Todd gets drafted to go join a war which he feels is being fought for totally wrong reasons. Luke is called on to help assassinate someone who he feels should not be killed. As the moral conflicts intensify, the men get more and more stressed. Todd is becoming addicted to alcohol. Luke is getting ulcers. Both men are unable to maintain meaningful relationships with other humans because they feel so wretched inside. The more wretched they feel, the more certain they are that God is mad at them, and the more afraid they are to talk to Him. And yet God isn’t heaping problems onto their heads out of anger, but out of love, because He wants these two men to stop pushing Him away. When Todd finally breaks down and turns to God for help, he is certain that God is going to tell him to quit the military. But much to his surprise, God tells him to stay where he is. You see, God isn’t anti-military, nor is He anti-war or anti-government. Christians who try to say that God would never be for war haven’t read their Bibles very closely, because the book is full of passages in which God Himself talks about starting wars and using militaries to accomplish His agendas. God wants Christians in the military, and He wants Christians in government. What He doesn’t want is us refusing to treat Him as the Supreme Authority in our lives.
One major problem with patriotism is that it says that a political organization is more valuable than human life. Soldiers are taught that it’s okay to kill someone just because their country tells them to. And who is it okay to kill? Anyone who is from a different country. John’s country has a flag with stars and stripes, so he feels superior to Peter, whose country has a flag with only stripes. Well, this is ridiculous. God says that both John and Peter have equal value in His sight—flags have nothing to do with it. What country a man is born in has nothing to do with his value as a human being. American soldiers shouldn’t be treating American lives as more valuable than Chinese or Mexican lives. Patriotism teaches us to devalue our fellow humans when God says we’re supposed to be viewing other humans as our equals. Patriotism tells us to put politics before our convictions—to just park our brains and do whatever our country wants. Well, no, this is total rot.
KEEPING GOD FIRST
Don’t tell God to sit down and hush up while you go serve your country. Instead, you need to be asking God if He’s alright with you doing what your country wants. Maybe your country says you ought to go help drop bombs on a city halfway around the world. Well, what does God say? God might tell you to go for it, or He might tell you to refuse to participate.
When you assume that you can read God’s mind for Him and accurately anticipate His will in every situation, you assume incorrectly. In the Bible, we find God telling fathers to kill their children (Abraham, Jephthah & the Levites). We find Him telling soldiers to commit genocide. We find Him ordering cities to be burned to the ground and never rebuilt. We find Him turning sincere believers into powerful politicians who helped run their governments as they worked alongside a bunch of demon worshiping sorcerers (Daniel & Joseph). Does God want His people involved in politics? Absolutely. Does He want His people going to war? Yes. God wants all kinds of things, and sometimes His orders get downright bizarre.
God told the prophet Isaiah to walk around naked for years. He told the prophet Ezekiel to lie in the dirt for over a year. He told the prophet Jeremiah to walk around wearing a wooden yoke around his neck. He told Gideon how to set up a deceptive ruse on the battlefield. He approved of the prophet Elisha publicly lying to a bunch of enemy soldiers and then leading them into an ambush. You can’t anticipate God—He’s wild and unpredictable. He has a long history of handing out some very bizarre orders. Yet because God is so powerful and so able to make your life a misery, He really isn’t Someone you should be trifling with. When you try to use patriotism as an excuse to ignore God in life, you are moving onto the wrong side of His patience. We need to be asking God what He thinks of what we’re doing. We need to be receptive to Him piping up with countering orders anytime He wants, and should He choose to do so, we need to be willing to obey Him even when it means getting hassled by humans. When conflicts arise, we need to look to God for help in resolving them. When we’re feeling a check about doing something, we need to ask Him for clarity.
When we are treating God as the Supreme Authority in our lives, it doesn’t mean we hear Him convicting us every second. He might have us keep doing what we’re doing for quite some time without having us make any drastic course corrections. But we need to remember that life is about pleasing God, not about pleasing a country. There won’t be any flags in eternity. There won’t be nationalities or ethnicities. Countries are merely elements of this world. Since we’re such selfish little beasts who can’t possibly get along with each other on a global scale, we do a lot better when we cluster up in smaller groups and focus our energies on maintaining our little turfs. Having countries is very beneficial to us here, but we need to not get an exaggerated view of their importance.
You aren’t clear to go gunning another man down until God says you have His Authorization to do so, and He’s not going to give you that Authorization until you talk to Him. You aren’t clear to go spying and lying and pushing your agenda onto other people until you’ve checked with the One who outranks us all. You certainly can’t fix the corruption around you, but God isn’t telling you to, either. He just holds you accountable for how you’re responding to Him in the privacy of your own soul. You’re either listening to Him and respecting Him, or you’re ignoring Him and rejecting Him. If you know that you never asked Him for His feedback about your line of work, now is the time to do so. If you know that you’re currently trying to ignore certain nagging convictions, now is the time to ask Him to help you get back into alignment with Him (see Confronting Your Convictions: When You Don’t Have the Courage to Obey).
At some point, the leaders of your country are going to disappoint you. Perhaps they already have. No country is perfect, and when we try to live for our countries, we set ourselves up for bitter disillusionment. But when we are living for God, then even when our leaders are acting like idiots, we don’t get stuck in fear and angry frustration. Instead, we keep moving forward with our own lives, trusting God to guide us, and carrying out the tasks He brings us out of a desire to honor Him.
Will God forgive soldiers for killing?
Military Christians: The Spiritual Benefits of Being a Soldier
Choosing the Right Priorities: How does God want us to treat our brothers?
Monster in Uniform: Recovering from Your Own Immoral Acts (Help for Christians in Law Enforcement & the Military)