Patriotism is a complex and sometimes controversial subject. People have different ideas about what it is and how to express it. My own concept of patriotism used to be rather narrow: Love my country, be a good citizen and enjoy patriotic music. But the subject is much broader than that.
Perhaps no human being’s subjective opinion about patriotism is really that important. But, for anyone who believes in God and that He “created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×), the perspective of the Creator should be all important.
So what does God think? Should we be patriotic? If so, how? Are patriotism and Christianity compatible? Would Jesus Christ be patriotic if He were on earth today?
Before addressing these questions, let’s review the concept of patriotism.
The term patriot comes from the Greek root word pater , meaning father. A patriot is generally defined as one who loves, supports and defends his fatherland, the country of his nativity or residence.
Patriotism represents the qualities and conduct of a patriot. The idea of patriotism originally was an attachment to the surrounding land—merely a love for the climate, scenery, agriculture and native people. With the establishment of national boundaries, governments and ideologies, patriotism came to mean loyalty and support of one’s own country.
Patriotism can be unifying or divisive
Consider the example of the United States of America. What makes it remarkably united in spite of being composed of such diverse peoples? What power begets E pluribus unum , meaning “Out of many, one”—a motto found on the great seal of the United States? Part of the tie that binds Americans is patriotism. How and why American patriotism developed so strongly during the short history of the country is a fascinating study.
Clearly, patriotism had dwindled before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when it revived noticeably as an understandable source of comfort and strength. After all, one of the surest ways to be unified is to have a common enemy.
Yet an upsurge in patriotic expression inevitably becomes divisive in some ways. People resent feeling pressured to conform to someone else’s brand of patriotism. People are hurt by judgmental finger-pointing: If your ways are not like my ways, or your political views are not like mine, you are unpatriotic.
Some people express their patriotism in public ways—displaying their nation’s flag, celebrating national holidays, singing their national anthem, cheering a candidate—and usually expect everyone else to do some flagwaving. Other people are more private and may think of such exuberance as superficial, childish or pretentious. If they are law-abiding citizens, pay their taxes and contribute to their community—if, for example, they occasionally donate blood-they may think they are patriotic enough. Some would ask: If I love people, obey the laws and pay my taxes, do I really need to love my government?
Much of the divisiveness comes not so much from patriotism itself but from its abuse. Patriotism should not be a club to browbeat others into conformity with a political view or as a tool of emotional manipulation. It shouldn’t be a means to justify bad proposals or condone evil action-nor as a method of wrapping oneself in the flag to excuse mistakes and wrongdoing.
Patriotism vs. nationalism?
Although definitions of patriotism vary, many observers regard patriotism as positive and nationalism as negative. Patriotism can be easily confused with nationalism, partly because the patriot and the nationalist often use the same words to express their feelings. So nationalism can easily be mistaken for patriotism.
It’s important to understand the distinction—because all too often, when people believe they are being patriotic, in reality they have crossed over the line into chauvinistic nationalism.
A nationalistic person usually expects patriotic citizens to always agree with their nation’s government. But a truly free, democratic country not only permits dissenting views but cherishes this freedom as a strength. Many who point out faults in the system are quite patriotic. In fact, constructive criticism is a valuable patriotic contribution. This freedom is a priceless privilege, sadly abused by those whose motives are not in their country’s best interest.
For the patriot, love of country is like love of family-involving caring, devotion and affection. A nationalist may claim to love his country primarily because it is the best country in the world. Ideally a patriot has more of an unconditional love for his country because it too is his “family,” even though it is not perfect or the most powerful or the “best.” Just as family members feel a willing obligation to help each other, patriotism includes sense of responsibility to assist one’s country.
A patriot is proud of his country in a benign sense in that he respects it. Patriots are devoted to causes greater than themselves. A nationalist, on the other hand, usually identifies with causes as extensions of himself. A nationalist -sometimes called a superpatriot—can be fanatical. The nationalist usually views contrary opinions and other cultures as threats.
The most important distinction is that rightly expressed patriotism is in line with God’s law, wherein He commands us to love others, while nationalism crosses the line into exclusive superiority, which is ungodly. God loves all people (see John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
American King James Version×), and so must we. Worse still, nationalism can be a mask for what amounts to idolatry, violating the First Commandment—”You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3 Exodus 20:3You shall have no other gods before me.
American King James Version×).
Nationalism has many characteristics in common with religion. The No. 1 priority of nationalists may be their nation, government or ideology. But putting anything higher than God is idolatry and breaking the First Commandment. Anyone engrossed with nationalism often has a shallow relationship with God.
Godly leaders were patriotic
Many biblical figures—patriarchs, kings, priests, prophets and apostles—were clearly patriotic. They demonstrated their patriotism by love of country and caring for the welfare of the people. For instance,Moses pleaded with God not to destroy the Israelite nation after one of its many rebellions against Him (Deuteronomy 9:6-29 Deuteronomy 9:6-29 6 Understand therefore, that the LORD your God gives you not this good land to possess it for your righteousness; for you are a stiff necked people.
7 Remember, and forget not, how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness: from the day that you did depart out of the land of Egypt, until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.
8 Also in Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath, so that the LORD was angry with you to have destroyed you.
9 When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant which the LORD made with you, then I stayed in the mount forty days and forty nights, I neither did eat bread nor drink water:
10 And the LORD delivered to me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spoke with you in the mount out of the middle of the fire in the day of the assembly.
11 And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the LORD gave me the two tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant.
12 And the LORD said to me, Arise, get you down quickly from hence; for your people which you have brought forth out of Egypt have corrupted themselves; they are quickly turned aside out of the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten image.
13 Furthermore the LORD spoke to me, saying, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiff necked people:
14 Let me alone, that I may destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven: and I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.
15 So I turned and came down from the mount, and the mount burned with fire: and the two tables of the covenant were in my two hands.
16 And I looked, and, behold, you had sinned against the LORD your God, and had made you a molten calf: you had turned aside quickly out of the way which the LORD had commanded you.
17 And I took the two tables, and cast them out of my two hands, and broke them before your eyes.
18 And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights: I did neither eat bread, nor drink water, because of all your sins which you sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.
19 For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure, with which the LORD was wroth against you to destroy you. But the LORD listened to me at that time also.
20 And the LORD was very angry with Aaron to have destroyed him: and I prayed for Aaron also the same time.
21 And I took your sin, the calf which you had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped it, and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust: and I cast the dust thereof into the brook that descended out of the mount.
22 And at Taberah, and at Massah, and at Kibrothhattaavah, you provoked the LORD to wrath.
23 Likewise when the LORD sent you from Kadeshbarnea, saying, Go up and possess the land which I have given you; then you rebelled against the commandment of the LORD your God, and you believed him not, nor listened to his voice.
24 You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I knew you.
25 Thus I fell down before the LORD forty days and forty nights, as I fell down at the first; because the LORD had said he would destroy you.
26 I prayed therefore to the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, destroy not your people and your inheritance, which you have redeemed through your greatness, which you have brought forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand.
27 Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; look not to the stubbornness of this people, nor to their wickedness, nor to their sin:
28 Lest the land from where you brought us out say, Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land which he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to slay them in the wilderness.
29 Yet they are your people and your inheritance, which you brought out by your mighty power and by your stretched out arm.
American King James Version×). Nehemiah showed concern for his native land, so much so that he mourned, wept, prayed and fasted for it (Nehemiah 1:4 Nehemiah 1:4And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,
American King James Version×). He even left the comfortable position of being one of the king’s officials to travel to Jerusalem and help rebuild God’s temple.
Esther and Mordecai risked their lives to save the Jewish people of their day. Daniel prayed and fasted with sackcloth and ashes for the restoration of the nation of Israel, the city of Jerusalem and the temple (Daniel 9:1-19 Daniel 9:1-19 1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans;
2 In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
3 And I set my face to the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
4 And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;
5 We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from your precepts and from your judgments:
6 Neither have we listened to your servants the prophets, which spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
7 O LORD, righteousness belongs to you, but to us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries where you have driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against you.
8 O Lord, to us belongs confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.
9 To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him;
10 Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.
11 Yes, all Israel have transgressed your law, even by departing, that they might not obey your voice; therefore the curse is poured on us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him.
12 And he has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing on us a great evil: for under the whole heaven has not been done as has been done on Jerusalem.
13 As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come on us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand your truth.
14 Therefore has the LORD watched on the evil, and brought it on us: for the LORD our God is righteous in all his works which he does: for we obeyed not his voice.
15 And now, O Lord our God, that have brought your people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have gotten you renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
16 O LORD, according to all your righteousness, I beseech you, let your anger and your fury be turned away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people are become a reproach to all that are about us.
17 Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of your servant, and his supplications, and cause your face to shine on your sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake.
18 O my God, incline your ear, and hear; open your eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by your name: for we do not present our supplications before you for our righteousnesses, but for your great mercies.
19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and do; defer not, for your own sake, O my God: for your city and your people are called by your name.
American King James Version×).
Each patriotic leader was passionate about helping to save his country, especially from captivity and destruction. God Himself has never stopped being a patriot for His people, showing mercy as a protector from physical harm, as we see most dramatically in passages like Revelation 3:10 Revelation 3:10Because you have kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation, which shall come on all the world, to try them that dwell on the earth.
American King James Version×, 12:14 and 18:4.
The New Testament relates the apostle Paul’s obvious attitude of self-sacrificing love for his country and countrymen: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1 Romans 10:1Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
American King James Version×) and “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren [if it would save my brethren], my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites …” (Romans 9:2-4 Romans 9:2-4 2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. 3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh: 4 Who are Israelites; to whom pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;
American King James Version×). Paul yearned for spiritual salvation and eternal life to come to his countrymen.
The example of Christ
Jesus Christ, too, was a patriot. He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34 Luke 13:34O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kill the prophets, and stone them that are sent to you; how often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen does gather her brood under her wings, and you would not!
American King James Version×). As He drew near Jerusalem, “He saw the city and wept over it” (Luke 19:41 Luke 19:41And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,
American King James Version×).
Christ also said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13 John 15:13Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
American King James Version×). That’s exactly what Jesus did. Although He had a loyal attachment to His earthly homeland and a special love for His countrymen, He obviously loved all human beings. Paul speaks of “God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4 1 Timothy 2:3-4 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
American King James Version×). God would have us all follow that example and love everyone —even our enemies (Matthew 5:44 Matthew 5:44But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you;
American King James Version×).
True patriotism includes “tough love,” a willingness to warn people of the disastrous consequences of continuing in their evil ways. This is similar to the role of a watchman as described in Ezekiel 3 and 33. Jesus said what we need to hear, not just what we want to hear. His mission was not to make people feel good, but to try to get them to be good and do good—for their own benefit and salvation, because He loves all people.
However, people—especially false religious leaders—hate to be corrected. They don’t like a patriotism that includes constructive correction. Before long, Christ’s own countrymen killed Him.
Jeremiah’s unpopular patriotism
Perhaps the most dramatic example of true patriotism is that of the prophet Jeremiah. Incredibly, although he deeply loved his country and countrymen, he was branded as unpatriotic.
God chose Jeremiah to bring His messages of warning primarily to the nation of Judah. However, this Hebrew prophet was not just a dispassionate messenger. Knowing the disasters that would happen if the people didn’t repent, he continually expressed a personal passion to save his country. Jeremiah exhorted, begged, pleaded and even threatened—often with weeping—for his countrymen to repent. He said, “O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved” (Jeremiah 4:14 Jeremiah 4:14O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved. How long shall your vain thoughts lodge within you?
American King James Version×).
But the people didn’t want to hear about their sins or any prophecies of impending punishment for wrongdoing. They wanted to hear only about how good they were, about how they were God’s chosen people, how they would never suffer defeat.
Jeremiah became unpopular, to say the least. He was hated, ridiculed, persecuted and almost killed. But what grieved this prophet the most was that his people wouldn’t, for their own good, listen to his warnings from God and repent. He lamented: “For the hurt of the daughter of my people I am hurt. I am mourning; astonishment has taken hold of me … Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jeremiah 8:21 Jeremiah 8:21For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment has taken hold on me.
American King James Version×; 9:1).
At times Jeremiah suffered despair and depression because of the stressful burden of preaching to hostile audiences of his own countrymen. After the torture of painful confinement in stocks, he sank into depression (Jeremiah 20:2 Jeremiah 20:2Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the LORD.
American King James Version×). He complained to God about being forced into becoming a prophet and that his preaching wasn’t doing any good (verse 7). He even cursed the day on which he was born (verse 14), complaining that he wanted to give up (verse 9).
But Jeremiah realized he couldn’t stop trying to warn the people even if God had allowed him. He said, “But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (verse 9).
Judah was his country, and its citizens were his people. He knew blessings would come only if they obeyed God and that they would suffer terribly if they continued in the path of disobedience. He simply had to keep trying. This was true patriotism.
However, the Jewish populace wanted to hear only flag-waving boasting. After all, they were God’s special people, the good and the great. They convinced themselves that God was on their side to protect them unconditionally. Only their nation had the temple of God, so how could He possibly allow it to be destroyed?
The kingdom of Judah didn’t want to hear any correction or gloomy predictions that might undermine national morale. Instead, the people wanted a cheerleader to tell them only what was reassuring and politically correct. Judah’s hypocritical leaders and citizens, thinking they were patriotic, were actually nationalistic in the worst sense of that term. On the other hand, Jeremiah was a real patriot who wanted only the best for his country and countrymen.
God’s prophecies and promises
The Bible foretells that in the end time we can expect to see more-frequent and more-ferocious wars (Matthew 24:6 Matthew 24:6And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that you be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
American King James Version×). Prophecies in the book of Revelation tell us that shortly before Christ’s return a political, economic and religious power bloc will arise that will demand total allegiance. Just as the Roman emperors for centuries demanded that they be worshiped, in the end time worship of this power and its dictator will be enforced (Revelation 13:4-15 Revelation 13:4-15 4 And they worshipped the dragon which gave power to the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like to the beast? who is able to make war with him? 5 And there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given to him to continue forty and two months. 6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. 7 And it was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. 8 And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. 9 If any man have an ear, let him hear. 10 He that leads into captivity shall go into captivity: he that kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. 11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon. 12 And he excercises all the power of the first beast before him, and causes the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. 13 And he does great wonders, so that he makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, 14 And deceives them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. 15 And he had power to give life to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
American King James Version×).
How should we prepare for the terrorism, treachery and tyranny of the last days? By turning to God, living by His Word and trusting Him to protect and provide for us. Then each citizen can seek to better understand the will of God and how to express proper patriotism toward his country. Some religious people mistakenly think God’s will requires isolation to the extent of becoming unaware and unconcerned about what is happening in the world. This type of cocooning tends to inhibit them from being friendly, loving and helpful to anyone except those in their group.
But Jesus said that we should be a Christlike role model, and that the light of this example would not be hidden (Matthew 5:14-16 Matthew 5:14-16 14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light to all that are in the house.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version×). Normally Jesus didn’t wait inside a synagogue for others to come to Him. He was out among the people doing good works. Christ set us the perfect example in all things, including proper patriotism.
Seek a higher citizenship
Once a person has submitted his life to the Creator, he has continuous access to the most powerful instrument for good that exists. That instrument is vastly underestimated and underused- prayer to the God of the universe.
More good can be accomplished through believing prayer-for one’s family, friends, church, nation and world-than with all the political action, mighty military machines and other human efforts put together (Matthew 7:7-11 Matthew 7:7-11 7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you:
8 For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.
9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
American King James Version×; 1 Timothy 2:1-3 1 Timothy 2:1-3 1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior;
American King James Version×; 1 John 3:22 1 John 3:22And whatever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
American King James Version×; Hebrews 4:16 Hebrews 4:16Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
American King James Version×).
The apostle Paul wrote, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20 Philippians 3:20For our conversation is in heaven; from where also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ:
American King James Version×). “Our” refers to those who have fully submitted to God through true repentance and have become a part of His Church. Their citizenship records reside in heaven. Their names are written in the Book of Life.
God’s people have dual citizenship. It is noble and right to be patriotic toward our earthly nation, but we also should have a higher and more fervent patriotism for our heavenly Kingdom, which will be established on earth at the return of Christ. He tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
American King James Version×).
For those who sincerely seek to become Christians, the wisest decision they could possibly make is to take the necessary steps to attain that heavenly citizenship. GN