Yes, dear readers, it is time for my annual, controversial Fourth of July blog entry. As usual, please keep in mind that I love my country and am glad I was born in a nation in which I am free to express myself without fear of retaliation from the government (although retaliation from my readers at times resembles a free-for-all. . . .)
It’s been too easy for Americans to forget, or ignore, the fact that the War for Independence was not fought to secure individual rights and freedoms but national sovereignty. All English citizens already had the rights and freedoms we hold dear in America. That was why the colonists were literally up in arms about the abuse by the government they were receiving–as Englishmen, they expected the rights guaranteed to them by the Magna Carta to be honored and upheld. (“Know that we, at the prompting of God and for the health of our soul and the souls of our ancestors and successors, for the glory of holy Church and the improvement of our realm, freely and out of our good will have given and granted to . . . all of our realm these liberties written below to hold in our realm of England in perpetuity. . . .”–preamble to Magna Carta, 1215 a.d.) If the colonists had been patient and persevered, their rights would have certainly been restored without having to fight a war (see Canada). As it is, they severed ties with the government that was meant to defend their rights and was not doing so. The Declaration of Independence was a document proclaiming the independence of a nation, a group of people, from another nation; not a carte blanc proclaiming the independence of every individual from every other individual on earth.
We were created equal, yes, and endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. But we were never created to be independent. God never meant for us to live as islands in seas of opposing humanities. We were meant to live in harmony and interdependence, working together towards common good. I believe—I hope– our founding fathers understood this, and that their commitment to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was not at all about petty, personal liberties but about the people of America as a whole. Because when each person in a group conducts himself independently, thinking only of his own fulfillment and happiness without a thought of what is best for all involved, the result is . . . . America as we see it today. Chaotic, ignorant, dangerous, frightening.
What’s even more frightening is that the American church has bought into this idea of “rugged individualism” as well. I am not saying that God does not love us and deal with us as individuals, because I know that is not the case. God loves each of us as His creation, individually. But He did not create us to be independent of one another. He created us in groups from the beginning: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” He placed us in families; in communities; in people-groups; in nations. He did this deliberately, because that is how He meant for us to function–together.
Sometimes God does chose special individuals to work His will, but it is never to the benefit of the chosen person. God chose Abraham, not to be a great man, but to father a great nation. He chose Joseph, not to bless Joseph, but to save His people. He chose Moses, not to bless Moses (Moses did not want this blessing, bless his heart), but again, to save His people. God honors and blesses those He chooses, but He does not choose them for their own good, but for the good of the people.
Is there any one person whom we honor as an individual who did not do whatever he did to deserve honor for the benefit of many? We admire our founding fathers for what they did for America–for US–not for what they gained for themselves. What did they gain for themselves? Heartache. Trouble. Contention. Loss of personal freedom. Yes, I said it. They gave themselves to the cause of political freedom to the detriment of their own, personal freedom. Washington wanted nothing more than to retire to his plantation and be a farmer, living quietly for the rest of this life. He was coerced into becoming the first president, instead. He was a good president–and he really didn’t enjoy it.
And how about our church founding fathers? When one thinks of the early church, I’m sure the name of Paul springs immediately to mind. He was probably the most successful missionary ever in church history. Everything he did, was for the church body. What he received in return was imprisonment, sorrow, death.
I’ve been learning a lot of late about how self-centered the American church (a part of American culture) has become. It’s disheartening, to say the least, especially since it’s become such an integral part of our thinking that few seem to be aware that we our thinking is so faulty. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” is a common tool for convincing people of their need for God. This is a true saying; please don’t think I don’t believe this. But Americans take this differently than they should. They take this to mean that God has a plan to make each person’s individual life a rousing success, filled with personal happiness and fulfillment. I’m sorry, but you have only to look around you at the real lives of real Christians to know that this is not the case. I’m not saying that God does not have our best interests at heart–He certainly does. But His best interests are so much bigger, so much more all-encompassing than we can ever imagine. He sees the bigger picture–the picture that includes every other person alive on the planet at this time and every person coming after us; each individual life fits into the picture to make it complete. Americans like to see each person as an individual picture unto himself. That is a grave departure from reality, and does so much damage to society as a whole, and to the church most of all.
Here’s an example of the Scriptures twisted by American thinking into something it was never intended to be: Romans 8:28. “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” American Christians want this to mean that everything that happens to each individual will work to that individual’s advantage–eventually. So, if this promise is true, every person’s life will, eventually, work out to that individual’s happiness and fulfillment. And that’s why Paul lived a long and ultimately happy life, retiring to a comfortable home with cable TV and a lovely pension plan. That’s why George Washington was able to fulfill his life-long dream of settling down on his farm and raising his family in peace. That’s why Martin Luther King died an elderly, satisfied man, having seen his dream accomplished in his own lifetime. Oh, but wait! That’s not what happened, is it? These men accomplished much, yes. They did great things and lived great lives–for the benefit of the people they were raised up by God to serve. Look at that verse from Romans again. Look at the pronouns in it. Those are PLURAL pronouns. Plural, not singular. We are not meant to live our lives in individual solitude. We are meant to live our lives for the benefit of all.
We may not all be intended for huge tasks like those accomplished by Moses or Joseph or Paul. But we are each a part of the whole, and we each have our place in the picture. We can wail about not being personally happy or fulfilled. Or we can rejoice in the differences we can make in the lives of others. We can be selfishly focused on our own individual comforts and desires; or we can feel the honor God does us in including us in His greater plan that expands over all time and space and impacts every other human being that ever existed, even if only in a modest way. We are not alone in the universe, and we must never live our lives as if we were. What we do influences so many other lives, for good or for evil, because we are a part of the whole. This is true whether speaking of a nation or of the church body. And this is a good thing.