America, the Dutiful

America, the Dutiful—
The country of my dreams!—
Where politics are beautiful
And all is what it seems.

America! America!
You land that might have been,
Had everybody had in mind
A nation without sin!

But when have e’er a people sought
To walk so high a way?—
To keep a country ever pure and
In the light of day?

It might have happened long ago―
Yet not through government―
But through the Savior’s herald cry
That each soul should repent.

Yet even so, they had no goal
To take the seats of pow’r,
But sought to make their souls instead
Be ready for that Hour!

Such righteousness, that Way to Heav’n,
Is not the way of Earth.
And never will there be enough
To overcome the dearth.

And we must not forget that they
Thought not themselves yet home,
For their pure hearts were longing for
A Country not their own.

So let us not mistake the two,
And idolize this land
When Heaven’s where the good crowns are
And where our Savior stands.

This Earth is but a proving ground,
Where we are put to choose,
With good and evil ever near,
And many apt to lose.

Why should we ever be surprised
When countrymen do fail,
And passion overcomes what’s right
And factious tides prevail?

Is this not what we should expect
When everyone can vote
And there are too few righteous ones
To keep our ship afloat?

So let us not deceive ourselves
By trusting still in man,
Or in this idol―politics―
Carved by his feeble hand.

Yet even so, I yearn to know
What difference might be made
If but ten thousand righteous souls
Might rightly serve the state
And shun the call to compromise―
To break that solemn vow―
But boldly keep the Rule of Law
And not a wrong allow.

But never will ten thousand come
From such idolatry
As seeks the pow’r for its own sake
Or lets corruption be.

And who among the churches has
A heart so stout as this?
For are they not as apt to fail
And righteousness dismiss?

So, even they must hear anew
The calling to repent
And turn their hearts completely to
That heav’nly President.

There’s no good hope of government
When people are not good,
Yet we have let the latter go
And still want brotherhood.

So let us not deceive ourselves
By trusting still in man
Whose heart has not yet chosen good
And yielded to God’s plan.

America! America!
You land that might have been,
Had everybody had in mind
A nation without sin!

There is in the poem of Katharine Lee Bates a surprisingly-enlightened line that envisions a brotherhood of “the good”, which, I suppose, she differentiates from the non-good masses:

And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

She envisioned God himself crowning the good with such a brotherhood. And before I move on to my main point here, I should also mention that she wished also for an America whose “every flaw” would be mended, as opposed, I suppose, to being tolerated or neglected:

God mend thine every flaw.

Further, in that same stanza, she envisioned a national character of “self-control” and of “liberty in law”, as opposed, I suppose, to a liberty in anarchy.

And in this later stanza, she sees in her dream of a proper nation, those good people, now called “gold” being refined by God, such that all their gains are godly in nature.

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine.

Perhaps Bates did not expect the bad among us to be refined. And perhaps we shouldn’t, either.

But as with so many things, the details of Bates’ poem have been neglected for the less-defined gist that so many want to glean from it. And this brings me to yet another very surprising (to most) passage in literature—this time from the Bible. Notice the distinction as to what kind of people were to receive this peace:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Luke 2:14. ESV

As Bates had envisioned a “brotherhood” only for the “good” Americans, the angel here was proclaiming that God was making peace with certain humans―with those “with whom he is pleased”, says this translation, while another says, “to men of good will”. (I have a lengthy discussion of the translation of this passage here.)

Assuming I’m right about this passage of scripture, God was not proclaiming peace to everyone, but to those who were good—and in the greater Bible context, destruction was understood for those who were bad. As Jesus said elsewhere, he had not come to unite humanity, but to divide it.

How is it, then, that we have such a bent toward expecting America to run smoothly according to the pretty-good principles in her Constitution, when not even among the churches are all the members good and righteous?

Is this not a foolish expectation? Yet do we not often react with surprise when things go wrong in American politics, as if this ought not be? But really, what did America expect when she gave the vote to the righteous and the unrighteous alike?

If I understand Revelation 21 and 22 (opens in a new tab)" href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener" class="ek-link">Revelation 21 and 22 correctly, God takes only the righteous to Heaven, and leaves the unrighteous out of it. And that’s part of what makes Heaven so special, is it not? That is, that unlike this earth, with its unrighteousness, Heaven is devoid of such. But this Earth will not be devoid of unrighteousness, not unless some new order of things is established here by God. (And the religious world is divided on whether such should be expected here.)

Even so, it wasn’t very long ago that I found myself getting surprised at badness in our government―as if that were not the way of this world―and badness among the voters, and even among the churches. But now, i am finally realizing and surrendering to the fact that this is how the world does things. Even the high state of compromise and disunity in the churches―that’s how the world does things, too. That is, that so many would dare to call themselves adherents to this or that cause, and yet not see to it that they live out authentically the principles of that cause.

As I say in the poem above, I believe that this Earth is a proving ground for us to be tested―a place for us to make up our minds as to what kind of people we want to be―as to what we’re going to think about God and his righteousness, and his call to us to adopt that same righteousness. So, all the people here on this Earth are in their time of choosing. And none of us choose without some amount of error and failure. And sadly, a great many attempt in various ways to pretend the barre of God’s righteousness lower, so as to excuse ourselves from trying consistently for the best for as long as we are here. Or if not that, we pretend some divided between God and man, by which he does not expect of man a full devotion to his full righteousness, and even “imparts” to man a make-believe righteousness of heavenly origin, rather than actually teaching the faithful to be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

Many are the tricks of the mind, devised to excuse ourselves from the difficulty of wrestling with the greatness of the greatness of God. (No, that’s not a typo.) And only a few, sadly, will have good will about this question, humbly turning ourselves in to God when we fail, and throwing ourselves on his mercy while refusing to quit trying. And our institutions have most all adopted some manner of compromise in this regard, by which to comfort and recruit members in a practice that falls short of what God had in mind for us to strive for.

It simply stands to reason and to experience alike, that even in your own church, whatever its official message, many fall short of it repeatedly. And so it goes with your government.

This world is not about making churches and governments and countries and institutions flawless, but about individuals deciding whether they themselves are going to sell out completely to following flawless Jesus completely into that righteousness that he demonstrated for this world nearly 2,000 years ago. And the individual with the right heart will keep trying, no matter how many times he stumbles―not because he thinks he can “earn his salvation” (as many are trained to stupidly assume must be his motivation), but because he knows that doing the right thing is the right thing to do.

And the rest make excuses, even sometimes putting words into the mouth of God―watering down the Word of God into something less, something twisted and weak. And this, I submit, is not “good will”. This is not pleasing to God, but evildoing. And people do who this should not expect “Peace on Earth”―neither at church nor in politics. Nor should they expect peace in the afterlife.

Countries don’t go to Heaven; individual people do―the good ones, that is. And churches don’t go to heaven; it’s the righteous individuals who go to heaven.

Once upon a time, after Noah’s flood, God told all the people to spread out, and a great many of them rebelled against that. They gathered in Babel to “make a name for themselves”. They wanted to be in a group―probably for the common reasons―and they thought so much of themselves that they would build a tower to Heaven itself, where they might enter that second-world-of-two on their own power. But God drew the line and tore that tower down, for flesh and blood may not enter the kingdom of God, and no human comes to Jesus in his heavenly abode unless God draws the human up there himself.

The destruction of that tower, however, did not stop people’s mindless bent to make a name for themselves, and to “identify” as camps, and to put camp over God, making idols of their own institutions. No, all of that is still quite alive to this very day. And why should we not think that it will always be so, for as long as there are humans being born on this Earth?

And if we want things here to be any better, then how can we avoid the obvious remedies of:

  1. Seeing to it that we ourselves learn and practice God’s righteousness, and after that,
  2. Doing our best to help others learn and practice it?

Yet if people do anything at all to this end (other than complaining), don’t most skip#1, and stink at doing #2?

Am I calling for a church-run government in these United States? Absolutely not! I’m calling for a government run by righteous people―as many as we can manage to get in it. And if we think that the risk to righteous people of being in such a corrupt government is so great as to provide more temptation than one can bear, then we’ll have to do without that.

But I should point out that this is not just a governmental problem, for hardly any of the churches are run by people who are highly accomplished in righteousness. And if we can’t even do it in a congregation of a couple hundred people, what makes us think that we could right the ship of state? Really? How irrational, then, is our apparent expectation that such should be!

I’m fairly convinced that my spirit was created by God with a view toward Heaven much more than I might have been created with a view toward fixing the Earth. So, the former should be my authentic focus. But here’s where the irony comes in: people like that are exactly the sort to make the world around them better to some appreciable extent. I’m not so sure that the one human can get all that much done. At least, I can’t. I’ve been trying to better our country for 15 years now, and to no avail.

So what can one human do? Can he change the world for ten others? For a hundred? And maybe one human, once in a while, can change the world for a million, but really, how rare is that?

No human, however―not even Jesus, mind you―is going to change every soul in the world. Some said “no” to him―even as they do still today―even as they continue to reject other good ideas, such as justice and good stewardship and such.

And we get frustrated in this world with all the lackluster humanity around us―most of us never quite realizing the extend to which we ourselves are lackluster, too.

I have friends who want to see humans band together and do great things. And while I’m all for it, I think it’s impossible if they do not first sit at the feet of Jesus to learn and embrace his righteousness for their own way of life. So many have tried to build institutions before building themselves, and before building the souls of those they recruit into them. And experience has shown this to be a fool’s errand, has it not?

Think on Babel―how people who would not embrace God’s will for their own personal lives sought to take the heavenly reward by force, showing that they did not have a very good grasp on the fact that God was more powerful than they. And to this day, we build our institutions, as if commissioned by God himself to do so―even as we take a pass on the opportunity to learn to live righteously as Jesus both exemplified in the flesh and commanded.

If we lack the will to be righteous, why pretend we’re interested in it? What do we gain from that but the respect of other insincere people? Shall we gather enough of them together so as to make a name for ourselves?

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