American Exceptionalism to the End. But to Which End?
Exceptionalism is a flag that a hopeful politician in America can hardly afford to keep at half mast. Hesitation on America’s greatness gets you names – at best, “isolationist”; at worst, “unpatriotic.”
Some sail the ship of political showmanship by insisting that America has it’s own proud circle on the charts in the back of your grandmother’s Scofield Reference Bible. America is the brightest light in this dark world, because America blesses Jerusalem. That is…blessed until the rapture. In such a view, America is not just a player in the end times, but is a sort of savior to ride high with. It declares that we need America, because GOD needs America.
Others, who take a less overt route to exceptionalism will at least insist that America is the largest and best hope for democracy and for the beauty of western ideals. That we need America because the WORLD needs America.
Dare a man take the helm of office and not at least keep up the spirits of those who live and work below deck? We need to hear, and we call to be told that we are, have been, and always will be “exceptional.”
Having grown up in Texas, I can attest to this fact: an exceptional place like the Lone Star State, or like the old U.S. of A., has factoids that can be produced off the top of the head by citizens to convince the outsider that such a place is the best: The only state to.… The largest place with… The first land to…
America is “the world’s oldest surviving democracy,” you know.
But what does that buy us? And regardless of whether that is even true, what does God think about us? A much more relevant question to our prowess, our permanence, and our position is this: On which side of Psalm 2 do we fall? Do we mock the Lord? Do we ache to escape his restraints? Do we bow? Do we kiss? Do we submit? Do we wish to be under his banner or do we wish to be under our own? The difference in the answer to that question is the difference in “refuge” and the “rod of iron” in the hand of the Messiah.
God made Israel exceptional for a time, from Abraham to Jesus. The goal of Israel’s place was to make the rest of God’s possession to come under the banner and blessing of God’s true king. But instead of being a conduit of God’s royal blessing, they served themselves and thought of themselves as the SUM of God’s blessing. They forgot that “all the earth is my possession” (Ex 19.5) and that through them “all the families of the earth” would be blessed (Gen 12.3). Instead, They believed that they were the exception – the only ones who mattered. They missed that they mattered precisely because everyone else mattered too, and because they were a messenger for the others.
I used to illustrate this point in a class by telling the students to imagine a pizza party for the class. If I asked for a volunteer to get the pizza from the office when it was delivered, that volunteer would be special. For the time he got to leave the room, until he got back, he would be one of a kind. But when he got back, if he had opened and eaten all the class’s pizza, he would not only have misunderstood his specialness, but he would have ruined it for the rest of us.
When Israel was called to house the special location of the one true God, they were serving as a sign post for the right one to worship. And they were to keep the identity of this God clearly understood until the time God had planned to make his public move. But instead, when they got to the end, they had decided they were okay not including the rest of the world in the blessing. They could eat the whole pizza. They were exceptional.
And because they had left their calling, the one true God got up and went to others. He left. Ichabod – the glory departed.
For some reason, we are incapable as Christians in America of telling the story in a way that doesn’t cast us in the role of Israel as Ichabod.
We believe we can support an exceptional America without the idea that temporary exceptionality is the gift of a God who calls you to point others solely to him. We are willing to support the claim of a VIP status, even though we aren’t really ready to get off the throne when the one true king takes his seat for action.
In Psalm 2 there are only two choices, and the one that doesn’t kiss the Son, and bow to his crown is dashed to pieces, without exception.
Luke Welch is a conservative in politics. He has a master’s degree from Covenant Seminary and preaches regularly in a conservative Anglican church in Maryland. He blogs about Bible structure at SUBTEXT.