Love of country during confusing times

Every year we pause to remember those who gave the greatest sacrifice a person can give. ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.’ (John 15:13-14) By remembering them, we honour the peace and prosperity that their sacrifice preserved.

One of the things that is striking about remembering the world wars is that it feels unambiguously good to honour those who stood on the side of freedom. We can say the same thing of the Ukrainians who are fighting to defend their country today. Serving in such a situation is noble (True Christian Religion 414). The justice of a greater cause is more important even than our lives.

But what if you don’t like what your country is doing? What if you don’t like your leader or you disagree with a position your country is taking? In an era when every wrong is proclaimed and retweeted, it can be easy to feel a distaste for what one’s country stands for. Britain’s colonial past is an example of something that previous generations may have grown up admiring, but today can be seen as problematic.

‘What if you don’t like what your country is doing?’

Interestingly, the Lord does not appear to give us much excuse for not loving and serving our country. He does not say love your country unless it does something nasty. The strongest example of His teaching in this regard comes in the New Testament. The Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap the Lord by asking Him if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. In response, the Lord said, ‘”Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.” So they brought it. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar's.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”’ (Mark 12:13-17)

The message is clear. If you want to use the roads that Caesar built and benefit from the soldiers who keep thieves and enemies at bay, then you owe taxes, even to conquering Caesar. Similarly, because we get so many benefits from our country we owe a debt of gratitude and service to her, even if we may not like some of her policies.

Another body of teaching gives further guidance: When we look at another person, we are to love the good in that person, rather than the person themselves (True Christian Religion 417-419). This means that we don’t seek to connect with the less honourable parts of others; we connect to the parts that are from the Lord. It’s the same with our country. We look to what is good and seek to serve that. This can take some work in the face of media reports of everything wrong with the country and her governors, just as it takes work to notice and focus on the good in people we love when they are annoying us. This does not mean we ignore the things we don’t like; rather it means we keep them in perspective by also noticing the good that is present.

As we reflect on those who served and died in wars for our country, I am sure that some of them were deeply troubled by positions the country took and values she held. And yet they chose to stand up for what was good about the country and they fought. In many ways that choice to rise above sincere disagreement and still to fight and protect, makes their sacrifice even more honourable. May we also choose to see what is good and noble in our country and render it our honour.