Beautiful America

Americans may have fewer freedoms than in the past, but America remains a beautiful and free country. On a hot and humid Independence Day, when parades are cancelled due to extreme heat, we can still celebrate the natural beauty of our land and the freedom to worship our God.

Katherine Lee Bates recognized the scope of America’s scenic beauty and the source of its blessed unity. In 1913, she penned these words to “America the Beautiful”:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

With Katherine, we need to acknowledge God as the source of all natural and relational blessings. And we need to look to his Word to guide our thinking and behavior as Christian citizens.

The classic passage regarding Christian citizenship is from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. These Christians lived under a government with an official religion of emperor worship. Yet Paul urges believers to submit to governing authorities:  

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.  Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:1-7, ESV).

Since God has established every authority on earth, we shouldn’t rebel against God’s appointed rulers. This doesn’t seem to fit very well with today’s celebration, does it? But rulers have a responsibility, too. They need to govern well, rewarding good conduct and punishing those who do wrong. We also must pay taxes, revenue, respect, and honor to whom they are owed.

So what recourse do Christians have when right is suppressed and wrong flourishes within their land? What should we do when extreme heat sears the earth and crops curl in the fields? The answer to both questions is found in God’s response to Solomon’s prayer at the temple dedication:

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people,  if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:13-14, ESV).

Whatever natural or governmental disaster looms, God’s people should humble themselves, turn from sin, and pray. Then God will hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and heal our land.

As we picnic and party today, oohing and aahing at fireworks bursting in the night sky, let’s not forget to confess our personal and national sins. Let’s ask God to send rain to refresh the land and revival to renew our people.

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5 thoughts on “Beautiful America

  1. One year before Katherine Lee Bates wrote the words to “America, the Beautiful,” another set of lyrics to the same tune appeared in the 1912 Psalter. The source was Psalm 46. The text matches the significance of this patriotic hymn perfectly. Imagine singing the tune of “America, the Beautiful,” but with these words:

    God is our refuge and our strength,
    Our ever present aid,
    And therefore though the earth remove,
    We will not be afraid;
    Though hills amidst the seas be cast,
    Though foaming waters roar,
    Yea, though the mighty billows shake
    The mountains on the shore.

    A river flows whose streams make glad
    The city of our God,
    The holy place wherein the Lord
    Most high has his abode.
    Since God is in the midst of her,
    Unmoved her walls shall stand,
    For God will be her early help,
    When trouble is at hand.

    The nations raged, the kingdoms moved,
    But when his voice was heard,
    The troubled earth was stilled to peace
    Before his mighty word.
    The Lord of Hosts is on our side,
    Our safety to secure;
    The God of Jacob is for us
    A refuge strong and sure.

    O come, behold what wondrous works
    Jehovah’s hand has wrought;
    Come, see what desolation great
    He on the earth has brought.
    To utmost ends of all the earth
    He causes war to cease;
    The weapons of the strong destroyed,
    He makes abiding peace.

    “Be still and know that I am God,
    O’er all exalted high;
    The subject nations of the earth
    My name shall magnify.”
    The Lord of Hosts is on our side,
    Our safety to secure,
    The God of Jacob is for us
    A refuge strong and sure.

    Amen! Mrs. Mathes, thank you so much for this reminder. May our refuge, and the refuge of this nation, be found once again in God alone.

    Michael Kearney
    West Sayville URC
    Long Island, New York

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