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July 4th Benediction: Instead of “God bless America…”

To this day we carry the images of 9-11 in our hearts—planes angling into skyscrapers, fireballs above Manhattan, eruptions at the Pentagon, jumpers choosing sidewalks over flames, ash-covered suits trudging silently through the smoke. In one clear-blue-sky morning our bubble of invincibility popped. And yet…as horrific as it was…we were spared. No Capitol dome crumbling, no white house charred black. America still stands.

For those of us born after WWII, we can hardly imagine not winning. Not standing proud and free. We watch Independence Day the movie and WOW at the walls of flame engulfing the White House, the street canyons of New York City. But it doesn’t compare to the feelings of 9-11. It’s the quick virtual gasp with no real threat or loss. We walk out laughing with friends and grab an ice cream. Not so the broken heart of Psalm 89.

To this day we carry the images of 9-11 in our hearts—planes angling into skyscrapers, fireballs above Manhattan, eruptions at the Pentagon, jumpers choosing sidewalks over flames, ash-covered suits trudging silently through the smoke. In one clear-blue-sky morning our bubble of invincibility popped. And yet…as horrific as it was…we were spared. No Capitol dome crumbling, no white house charred black. America still stands.

For those of us born after WWII, we can hardly imagine not winning. Not standing proud and free. We watch Independence Day the movie and WOW at the walls of flame engulfing the White House, the street canyons of New York City. But it doesn’t compare to the feelings of 9-11. It’s the quick virtual gasp with no real threat or loss. We walk out laughing with friends and grab an ice cream. Not so the broken heart of Psalm 89.

Here the words wail. The irrevocable loss crushes. Imagine walking down the mall in DC and seeing the jagged edge of the bottom half of the Washington monument sticking into the air. A crater where the capitol used to be. The broken down White House walls engulfed in weeds. Imagine China having plundered Wall Street and the Fortune 500 Companies. Iranian newspapers with gleeful cartoons of our demise. Imagine no electric grid. No computers. No air-conditioning or heating. Eeking out an existence among the ruins of the malls and sports stadiums.

The voice of Psalm 89 cries out to God, “You have defiled (David’s) crown in the dust. You have breached all his walls. All who pass by plunder him. You have made all his enemies rejoice. You have made his splendor to cease and cast his throne to the ground. You have covered him with shame.”

Not once, but twice Jerusalem has been sacked and pillaged. Hacked and burnt. We who have seen our homeland touched once on a fine September morning can hardly fathom what it might mean to be completely vanquished. We eat watermelon and spit seeds and light sparklers and have no idea what it is like to ask God for our nation, “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old…? Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked and how I bear in my heart the insults of the many nations.”

Yes, we may occasionally moan and shake our heads at the state of our nation. Those of us on the left defend choice and plead rights and warn of the dangers of theocracy. Those of us on the right also warn of theocracy—the imposition of prophetic compassion through the coercive power of taxation. But we have no clue what it might be to lose our democracy all together. To bear this Psalm 89 kind of loss and grief in our hearts.

This fourth of July let us pray with thanksgiving for America. We may feel like Galadriel in LOTR, “The Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little, and it will fail, to the ruin of all.” Yet, if we look at how far we are from the horror of Psalm 89 we can see blessing upon blessing. We still see a wide respect for law. We still see a vision of the good that motivates most people. We still have men and women willing to fight and sacrifice for freedom. We still enjoy (with a few exceptions) freedom of worship. Freedom of movement. So much freedom of opportunity.

Galadriel concluded that, “hope remains while the Company is true.” But as LOTR shows, even good company may fail. We are all fallen creatures who may choose power and self in the clinch.

Better to end where Psalm 89 ends: Instead of "God bless America," let us say with the psalmist, “Blessed be the Lord forever. Amen and amen.” The rich beauty of this benediction derives from the context–the gut wrenched lament of every single line of this psalm, save this last one.

As the psalmist lays out the empirical evidence–all that his eyes see and ears hear–it truly seems, as he writes in vs. 39, that God has "renounced the covenant" with David. He promised that he would "establish his throne as the days of the heavens" yet clearly the throne is cast down.

The Psalmist cannot see the astonishing way God is keeping his promise, raising up a root of Jesse to suffer and die, to rise from the dead and ascend to his throne to rule forever. Who could ever imagine that?

Everything can be redeemed. Even a cast down throne. Loss of power. Loss of respect. Loss of splendor. Everything can be redeemed for a nation, for you, for me, in ways far richer and life-giving than we can ever imagine.

So, with the psalmist let us say, "Blessed be you, Lord. You have given us life and liberty in America, the best and greatest country in all the world. In all of history. You have given us peace and freedom to worship you, share the gospel, love our families, love our enemies and bring your kingdom. If we look for your grace we see your overflowing love to us in thousands of daily gifts we tend not to notice or value.

"May we be a light to the nations and a faithful presence in our jobs and schools, churches and communities. We can never say thank you for America enough. Regardless of what happens in this election, regardless of whether our greatness endures, we will bless you. Forever and ever. Amen and amen."

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Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.