Does God bless nations?
“God Bless America”, “God Defend New Zealand” – What are people praying for?
“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3).
Scripture reveals how these great promises to Abraham are kept by God, the great promise keeper – who blesses both a nation, and “all the families of the Earth”.
The idea that God can bless nations is heard, for example, in the cry “God Bless America” during political speeches and even at top sporting events. But the real question is “what exactly do we mean when we say: ‘God bless ‘such and such’ nation?’”
In the biblical narrative, Gentile (non-Jewish) nations were defined around family or descent, but uniquely, the nation of Israel was defined around a covenant. But membership in Israel was open to Gentiles, who could come under the Covenant and, in small numbers, became as “natives of the land.”
A common question arises at this point when considering God’s blessings and nations: “does God truly love all nations (persons)?”
Most Christians think the obvious answer to this question is, “Yes, of course he does!” Indeed, they would agree that the very heart of the gospel is that God so loved the whole world that he gave his Son to make salvation available for every single person.
Interestingly, God Bless America is a patriotic song written by Irving Berlin during World War I in 1918 and revised by him in the run up to World War II in 1938. Irving Berlin arrived in New York at five as Israel Baline, the son of a cantor fleeing persecution of the Jews of Russia.
Today, “God Bless America” is often used as a symbol of support for war, sung by soldiers in uniform at baseball games and other events.
Along with the song heard across the Tasman – God Defend New Zealand – Berlin’s song is a good example of a prayer for blessing on a nation. And while many Americans believe in a” manifest destiny” for their nation, that it has been uniquely blessed by God, their patriotic enthusiasm may go beyond the Bible’s promises.
A patriotic song with perhaps a better balance is the British song, I vow to thee my country. The first verse fittingly remembers the sacrifice for those who died for that nation in war. But it has an even better second verse.
“And there’s another country
I’ve heard of long ago
Most dear to them that love her
Most great to them that know
We may not count her armies
We may not see her king
Her fortress is a faithful heart
Her pride is suffering
And soul by soul and silently
Her shining bounds increase
And her ways are ways of gentleness
And all her paths are peace”
The ‘another country” is the kingdom Jesus leads. This stanza points to how our God has answered his promise to Abraham that “all the families of the earth would be blessed”, while the promises to his descendants, the Jewish people, remain.
In Australia, the First Fleet arrived with a chaplain, Richard Johnson, whose Bible and Prayerbook are still in Sydney’s St Phillip’s Church on Church Hill. He had a rough time with the convicts. But the Christian footprint in Australian society and culture remains broad, particularly in areas of social welfare and education provision and in the marking of festivals such as Easter and Christmas.
Is Australia a Christian or a secular nation? The population is still predominantly religious, although the number of people identifying as having no religion is growing. In the 2011 Census, 68.3 per cent of the population had a religion and 61.1 per cent of Australians identified as Christian.
The 2016 census identified that 52.1 per cent of Australians classify themselves Christian: 22.6 per cent identifying themselves as Catholic, 13.3 per cent as Anglican and the Uniting Church with 3.7 per cent. Another 8.2 per cent of Australians identify themselves as followers of non-Christian religions.
Only 30 per cent of Australians counted in the 2016 census identified as having ‘no religion’. That number had increased from 2011, but more than 60 per cent of Australians still identified with an organised religion.
The Australian Constitution of 1901 protects freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.
Section 116 of the Australian Constitution provides that: “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”
What determines whether God will bless Australia or not?
As a result, the federal government cannot establish a state church. However, the state does interact with religion. For example, the federal government funds schools run by religious organisations and recognises marriages conducted by religious celebrants. The Catholic Church is second only to the federal government in providing welfare services.
So, does God bless nations today? What determines whether he will bless Australia or not? Psalm 33:12 says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
How can a nation be blessed, you ask? We read in the Bible that God will bless the nation that has him as its heritage, conditioned upon the nation’s obedience, just as with any nation. However, sometimes God blesses other nations which are less than godly to discipline a nation that is in need of it, such as with Israel.
When the nation of Israel divided into two separate nations and the Northern Kingdom was known as Israel and the Southern Kingdom, Judah, then God used other nations to take them into captivity. Both nations eventually fell into idolatry and so God disciplined them so that they would repent and return to him. That was God’s whole purpose behind these captivities, but eventually the time came when he withdrew his blessings on these other nations and they both were later destroyed by other powers.
Many of the veterans of World War Two believe that God may have used the Allied Forces as his rod of destruction against the fascist regimes of the world.
My hope is that if we say ‘God Bless Australia’, we would mean that our actions and policies are worthy of God’s blessing because they treat others like children of God
Although Micah was writing to the nation of Israel, we can see the implications for other nations and people that turn to God and give back to him (Micah 3:1-15), since God “will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal 3:11) and then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal 3:12).
This is the one place that God says, “put me to the test” (Mal 3:10).
The psalmist writes a great conclusion to all this: “Blessed is the people of whom this is true; blessed is the people whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 144:15). Can this apply beyond national Israel?
My hope is that if we say ‘God Bless Australia’ we would mean that our actions and policies are worthy of God’s blessing because they treat others like children of God, and advance the just and peaceable realm for all. Then it would really mean something.
In praying ‘God Bless Australia’, we also need to say that Christians have a responsibility to be a blessing to our nation, so that Australians “glorify our father in heaven”, including passing on our faith so that more and more of us seek to be a blessing.
We may be part of God’s answer to that prayer.
We pray also for the “common grace” that God can bless our nation with. When I say, ‘God Bless Australia,’ I mean that I pray God will provide the citizens and politicians of our country with wisdom sufficient for our many challenges. I pray that God will enable Liberals and Labor to see each other as fellow citizens rather than bitter enemies. I pray that all who live here will carefully steward the part of God’s creation for which we are accountable to God – our home place, our neighbourhood, our bit of earth.
I pray that Australia will be a blessing to the larger world and its neighbours. This is my prayer for Australia. Ut sit
Greg Bondar is NSW State Director of FamilyVoice Australia. Among many roles in non-profits and politics he was Senior Adviser to the Minister for Transport and Regional Development in the first term of the Howard Government.