‘God bless you, and may God bless these United States of America!”
Call me un-American. Maybe even un-Christian. Am I the only one who cringes, at least a little bit, at these words that conclude almost every political speech in our country? It is not that I do not wish God Almighty to bless us; nor is it the case that I wish for “freedom from religion,” which has gone way too far. Rather, I wonder: What does it mean when President Obama says this? Or Mitt Romney? What is our president declaring? What is his rival requesting? Since “words mean something,” perhaps it is helpful to pause and reflect on this question, especially since it involves calling on the name of the Lord.
According to the Holy Scriptures, God loves everybody. Everyone. He does not love Jews more than Christians, or Mormons more than Muslims. Dogmatically speaking, God created all of us, and loves us all equally.
His mercy endures forever, according to the Psalms, and his love extends as far as East is from West. We just read in church, “(God) is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.” In another place, Jesus says, “(The Father) makes his sun rise on evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” Jesus prayed for his enemies. And he forgave them.
So God loves all the people of the world and provides for their needs. These are universal blessings. Perhaps the political benedictions relate to these? The United States is supremely blessed with material wealth, even in a recession. And so often, citizens of our country are the first and boldest and most generous to help those suffering from disaster or distress. Certainly, these are blessings from God, and actions blessed by him.
On the other hand, to ask God’s blessings is also to offer oneself for change and healing. Biblically speaking, this means repenting of what we do that is against God’s will, including killing people, leading “little ones” to sin, squandering our resources, abandoning our elderly. More to the religion/politics point: It means abandoning our idea that there is no place for God in the “marketplace” or in the “public sphere,” except when it is politically expedient.
Every person on earth is blessed by God by virtue of his biological birth. God created us all! According to the Scriptures, though, God’s blessing — his good word, his benediction — is only given to that which is life-affirming, life-giving and good. Since God is the author of life, he does not bless death. Since he is the font of good, he cannot and does not bless evil. Since he is the source of healing, he does not bless self-inflicted sickness. Since he is the supreme reconciler, he cannot bless division. Since his commandments give life, he cannot bless the breaking of his commandments.
So in this light, in the absence of turning from obvious and perhaps even intentional wrongs, it is dangerous for any president or candidate to ask, invite or declare God’s blessings. According to Christian teachings, those who know better are actually held more closely accountable for their words and actions. To acknowledge God as a “blesser of things or people” and then to lead people away from his will and ways is spiritually very dangerous.
Who doesn’t want a blessing from God? Who doesn’t want mercy and kindness, gentleness, self-control? What law is there against joy, peace and patience? Indeed, God bless us and our United States of America wherein we seek to live in these ways. But woe to any one of us who calls evil good, or good evil, and asks God to bless that.
Fr. John Parker is rector of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in the I’On Community of Mount Pleasant. He can be reached at frjohn@ ocacharleston.org or 881-5010.