Patriotism is a unique love of, devotion to, willing to sacrifice for one’s country. And to add a little nuance, patriotism is a love for one’s country and his people and his nation, country designating the people’s land, people its citizenry, and nation referring to the shared history or ideals or culture that come prominently to mind when one thinks of a particular people.
Not every nation possesses its own territory, so patriotism doesn’t have to involve thoughts about a place, though it almost always does. Even if a people are currently landless, they’ll almost certainly have longings for a place they think belongs to them. I suppose it could happen that one is patriotic in being devoted to his nation’s people, ideals, and culture while considering his country a rather dumpy place.
More unlikely but still theoretically possible is that a patriot celebrates his nation’s history and culture but finds little to like in its current citizenry. But what seems impossible to include under “patriotism” is despising or dismissing the country’s history and ideals and culture.
One last complication: the “state” is the body politic organized for civil rule i.e, the government. Certainly it’s possible that one can be a patriot even while actively working against the current government.
Ok, so that’s a little bit of clearing out. Moving on…
After all the hesitations and caveats around patriotism which we discussed on Wednesday, I do think that one can make a biblical case for the goodness of patriotism. The following is a restatement and expansion of how I began on Weds to make that case. I’ll call it a kindness if you take the time to react, disagree etc. It’s a slippery topic.
#1 Patriotism is modelled in the Scriptures.
Psalm 137 has Israel’s exiles refusing their Babylonian overseers when asked to sing the songs of Zion, and contains both the sounds and the stillness of patriotism:
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!
This Jerusalem yearning conveyed so poignantly almost certainly can only be taken as a noble sentiment. This is patriotism eloquently expressed. Which then brings us to this complication that we’ll have to confront: Israel/ Jerusalem enjoyed a special status as the covenant people, recipients of revelation and promises etc. And surely some of the yearning here was fed by recalling the idea that the land they were away from was their inheritance from God. So, admittedly there’s not an exact correspondence between Israel’s unique patriotism and that of other people’s.
But even while appreciating the difference between expressions of Israel and everyone else’s, there is a point of commonality: devotion to a nation because of its distinctive history and ideals. For America, those might include the Pilgrim Fathers, a constitutional republic, “huddled masses yearning to be free.”
The next example of a type of patriotism is in Genesis 29:
Then [Jacob] commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place.
Jacob commits his sons to the onerous task of bringing his corpse from Egypt and back to the cave where his fathers are buried. So, If Jacob had a Twitter bio, it wouldn’t include the phrase “Global Citizen.” Not all places were the same. His heart was in the land of his fathers. The patriotism of place.
Another example of patriotism modelled in Scripture is found in the first words of Romans 9:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For 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.4 They are Israelites…
Paul points to the reason for his willingness to lay down his eternal life (!) for Jewish people: because they are “My brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Here’s an example of the kind of patriotism that has particular regard for one’s people.
Final example from Scripture of patriotism that’s, if not modelled, then at least expressed in a positive light.
Now a centurion had a servant[a] who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion[b] heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”
Jesus is pressed to take the trouble to heal the centurion’s servant, because the centurion has supported and aided in Jewish worship. Or we could say, Jewish culture. So the appeal to Jesus is a patriotic appeal: help him because he’s an ally of our nation. While we can’t say for sure that it was this motive that moved our Lord to act for the centurion, it certainly is the case that it’s the only one that Luke accounts for.
For all that’s written above, Tonia still isn’t convinced! Her main rejoinder: these examples all have to do with Israel, and Israel is in a category by itself. Well, dat true and dat true. However, two points to be made:
#1 – The Bible contains the story of God and Israel. The New Testament is the development of that story, but until the end, it’s still that story (Revelation 21:10). Israel, in their unique situation of being in covenant with God, gets the spotlight almost all the way through God’s revelation. Which means we simply can’t expect many lessons that are taught outside of the context of God and Israel.
So, with all that, how many universal, timeless principles of, for instance, patriotism, can we really take away from Israel’s view of their land, their people, their culture? Without now getting into the weeds of how I arrive at the answer to that, I’ll suggest that it’s a good hermeneutical principle to grant the widest possible application of Scripture, unless there are provided explicit reasons not to. And to our point, I don’t anywhere hear the Scriptures crying verboten over carrying principles of Israelite love of country into our contemporary settings.
#2 – And a reminder: neither of these cases for patriotism are slam dunks. The argument will be carried (or not) by accumulation. Stand by…