So it begins1—and so also begins the response, particularly for some Americans this Independence Day weekend.
“What, exactly, will I be celebrating this Independence Day?” one internet acquaintance asked. “… There will be fireworks and music—an atmosphere that is certainly celebratory. But I can’t help but think that this experiment has reached its end.”
Here I will suggest that the United States is like three things: my dead dog, deep-dish pizza, and fantastical stories. Read to the end and you’ll hear what I mean.
If this July 4 weekend you feel uncertain what to celebrate,2 you have at least three potential responses:
- Keep calm and carry on. Just don’t think about it. Celebrate like you always did.
- Throw a tantrum. (Tosses flag and corn dog) “Well if that’s how it’s gonna be, I quit.”
- Utter spiritual platitudes. “Well, this whole representative republic thing was all well and good, but some people idolized it, and anyway, our citizenship is in heaven.”
My own reactions have been a combo move of all three during more than a few Fourths that followed nasty news. But this year I’m trying something different.
No, I don’t want to celebrate a fantasy America with its illusory blend of fifes, blue jackets, and funny three-point hats as well as white picket fences, pastel baby carriages, and black-and-white gentlemen with pipes. Nor would I celebrate a place where many people have done great wrong against other people and against our God.
But I will celebrate, and for this reason: I believe the United States could last forever.
No, I don’t mean the nation in its present form with all the nasty parts—the materialism, disposable culture, depravity, false religions such as radical-right-ism or progressivism.
But I do mean the United States of ideals, colorful flags, songs, stories, cookouts, human diversity, and natural wonders, that have made this place feel just a little bit like Heaven.
Could it be that all these things were only a shadow or copy of the true United States?
The Bible never promises eternity will be some satire-spawned cloud-land where people get bored, or some vague spiritoid dimension ater all that is good about the old world was nuked into nothingness anyway. Instead the entire Story arc of Scripture—the arc so often ignored by Christians on either side of our marriage debates—promises this:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”3
Beyond all end-times debates about beasts and persecution, beyond sin, and beyond any interim “millennium” however you interpret it, lies this Afterworld—a restored paradise born from the union of New Heaven (the Church, like a dazzling bride) and New Earth.
And who and what journeys from these heaven-glorified lands into this heaven-sent city?
By [the city’s] light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. … They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.4
If “the nations” will be there, remembered as distinct nations, why not the United States?
If “kings of the earth” will be there, why not voters, city council members, mayors, state representatives, congresspersons, cabinet members, delegates, and presidents?
If the nations’ “glory and honor” will be there, why not the glory and honor of the United States? What is this glory and honor? Not imperialism, intolerance, false religions, or any gift of God corrupted by man’s sin. All that will have been purged by the fires of judgment (2 Peter 3:10). Instead this glory and honor includes things the Old Testament promised:
For the coastlands shall hope for me,
the ships of Tarshish first,
to bring your children from afar,
their silver and gold with them,
for the name of the LORD your God,
and for the Holy One of Israel,
because he has made you beautiful. …
Your gates shall be open continually;
day and night they shall not be shut,
that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations,
with their kings led in procession.
For the nation and kingdom
that will not serve you shall perish;
those nations shall be utterly laid waste.
The glory of Lebanon shall come to you,
the cypress, the plane, and the pine,
to beautify the place of my sanctuary,
and I will make the place of my feet glorious.5
All that is sin-corrupted in this world—including the nation and kingdom that does not serve God—will perish. But all that is good about the world—ships, trade, silver, gold, wealth, fine wood (from cut trees!) help make God’s sanctuary, His home on Earth, glorious.
Or as Professor Kirke tells Lucy and the other Friends of Narnia in The Last Battle:
“[The old Narnia] was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door.”6
This is why in the New Earth the United States may be reborn. And those of her redeemed residents may bring her glories into the heavenly city—the stars and stripes, the marching bands, the corn dogs and the sparklers, the banners, the symbols, and the freedoms.
Notice I said may. And with that I return to my opening comparison. Why is the United States like my dead dog, deep-dish pizza, and fantastical stories? Because God would not need to bring these back to New Earth to make that place a paradise that glorifies Him. Of course not. Yet He did promise the restored world will have “worldly” things like these.
Therefore, after the great melting of the elements and the purging of all impurities,7 the United States, my dog, pizza, and stories may just last forever.
And that possibility is worth celebrating.
- Or really, continues. Also, I’m taking a break from the short Evangelical vs. Progressivist Content Warnings series. ↩
- And if after a certain court decision you think you know exactly what to celebrate, your comments are welcome, albeit off-track. ↩
- Revelation 21:1-4. ↩
- Revelation 21:24, 26. ↩
- Isaiah 60:9-13. ↩
- From The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis. Lewis’s metaphor could imply wrongly that the new world will be wholly separate in space, not only time, from the old world. Biblically the old world will not be annihilated forever, any more than it would lie frozen and dead behind a door. ↩
- 2 Peter 3:10 again ↩