The 4th of July. What does it mean to me? What should it mean to Americans today?
I'm not going to give an exhaustive answer to this question, just some brief thoughts from where I'm at today.
To prepare for independence day, I just watched the Hamilton Musical with my family on the projector at home. My son and I talked about a theme he noticed: living for good even if no one tells your story. That coincides with my current devotions in Ecclesiastes. America had a wild beginning and it was helpful to reflect on its founding again through the story of Hamilton as told by Lin Manuel Miranda.
I want to say 3 things as an American and a Christian:
1. We should recognize and thank the Triune God for the uniqueness of the American Constitution and the ideals that were held up for this nation.
Senator and Saint Ben Sasse (a member of a gospel-preaching church) summarizes this uniqueness well:
Our founders were making a claim about human dignity. Our founders were saying that everybody, everywhere—not just those who have been blessed to be born in this place—but everybody, everywhere is ordained with natural rights. Everyone everywhere is created in the image of God with natural rights, and government is just our shared project to secure those rights. . . . People have been wrong about the nature of government and the nature of freedom, and we the people in America believe that our rights come to us via nature, and government is our project to secure them, so we the people give the government enumerated powers. We don’t ever wait for the government to give us any rights. We claim those by nature. . . . The Constitution is the best political document that’s ever been written. The Constitution is just a list of powers that we decide to give the government, and when that list ends, the government has no further powers. The Constitution is not some list of the limited rights the people have. The government is limited, and the people’s rights are limitless.
This country recognized that God gives rights and that men and government do not create these rights but recognize them and seek to protect them.
The Bible says, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.' So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”
2. We should grieve for the past and present sins of the USA that keeps us from living out these wonderful ideals.
I'm thinking particularly of one of America's sins that was there from the beginning, from July 4, 1776, the slavery of Africans who were equally made in God's image. For all of America's wonderful exceptionalism of point 1, these ideals aimed at in our shared project were sinfully kept from so many based on the social construct of "race." Our countrymen's past sins are horrific beyond what I can imagine and currently conceive. For some of my African American brothers, sisters, and countrymen it is particularly difficult to celebrate the 4th of July (please read this brief article by Bobby Scott, member and pastor-theologian of Community of Faith Bible Church in South Gate, CA). For this reason I think it right for all Americans to not only celebrate July 4th but Juneteenth.
I get it. Sort of. I'm continuing to learn. I grieve and mourn over these past sins and the consequential present sin and evil continuing to oppress African Americans from these past unprocessed atrocities.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Jesus, Matthew 5.4).
3. We should build our lives for the good of our neighbors and this nation by God's common and special grace.
By grace my parents came in the 70s from the Philippines and established a life here for me and my brothers. By grace my wife's mom came to the USA in the 60s from Mexico and my wife was born and raised in California. This is our (earthly) home. God saved us through the gospel and promises us our heavenly home. So now, because of the imperfect pursuit and practice of the American ideals, we have been blessed to be raised in this country with the opportunities afforded to us, and we do our part to make this country better than it would have otherwise been without our lives and active participation. We have devoted our lives to Christ's church for the glory of his name among all ethnic people groups here and abroad, and live for the ultimate good of our neighbors and our earthly nation. For this reason, I thank God for the fourth of July.
1 Timothy 2:1–6 —First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time.
On this 4th of July in this tumultuous year, the goodness of God in Christ will meet different Christians in their unique place before the Lord. We're not all at the same place. But we should all worship the one true God through Christ, recognize good ideals, own our past and present failures, and resolve to live for Jesus for our neighbors and the nations. May God bless you this 4th of July.