A Chosen People
I have met the Chosen People and some of them are Americans, but not all of them. To be Chosen is special, but a mixed blessing as the history of the Jewish people demonstrates.
Just as the blessings of my neighbor do not make me poor, so the Chosen status of the Jews does not make me less. As an individual standing before God, I am equal to any man or woman, but that does not mean I share all the same roles. My sex prevents my enjoying the blessings of motherhood, but that does not make me less than my wife as a human being.
In the great drama of human history, the Jews were chosen to play a special role. God gave His Law to Moses and transformed the legal, social, and political world for good. The brave fight of the Jewish people to maintain identity and liberty is uniquely inspiring. As a Christian, I believe that God took on Jewish flesh forever on the first Christmas. This singular blessing can never be changed or lost.
History, however, also contains exceptional peoples, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad, that leave a deep mark on human history. The world was changed by the Mongolian people under the Great Khan. The small island nation of Great Britain created an Empire and culture that had exceptional impact on the very words I am writing and you are reading. Nations that fail their exceptional opportunities through vice disappear.
The Chosen always will be chosen, but the exceptional might become unexceptional. All men are created equal, but not all nations. Some have a big role to play and others, in God's good providence, a small one.
It is a false humility to hide from blessing or pretend it does not exist. Economic choices in the United States impact the health of people all over the world in an unparalleled way at present. If we pretend America is not exceptional, then we will be tempted to act irresponsibly. If we acknowledge our leadership of the free world, then this great power will be tempered by great responsibility. Our very election choices must be shaped by knowledge of our exceptional status.
A minor nation can afford petty leaders, but a great nation cannot.
An Exceptional People
America is not "chosen" in God's plan, but we are exceptional.
God created all men as equals, but not all nations are equal in importance. If you are a citizen of the United States, you are blessed to be part of a wonderful experiment and one of the greatest nations in history. You are not of greater value to God than a citizen of Liechtenstein, but you have greater power and responsibility.
America is exceptionally powerful and wonderfully modest in the use of that power. At the end of World War II, the United States was the only nation with atomic weapons. Most Empires in the history of the world would have used this great power to quickly wipe out their foes and seize the wealth of the world, but the Jewish and Christianity moral majority in the United States never considered doing this. We abused our power too often, but it should never be forgotten that we chose the hard road of the Cold War and of alliances rather than the easy road of true Imperial power. The pagan Romans with nuclear bombs would not have been so kind.
The United States is blessed with an exceptional Constitution. The genius of the Founders in balancing law and liberty amazes any objective person. The hard work of generations of Americans in making the initial promise a reality, mostly through peaceable means, is remarkable. Any nation with one leader of the caliber of Abraham Lincoln is exceptional, but the United States also found Frederick Douglass in the same decade.
Pretending we are not exceptional tempts us to moral laziness. A sports star simply is a role model to young people (are you listening Brett Favre?) and America simply is a model to all the nations of the world. We are deciding right now whether we will model a decadent and materialistic Babylon to the world or the balance between public and private morality.
Some of us are part of groups, nations, or families that are not exceptional in a good way. America's exceptional blessing and power from God has allowed us to do wicked things as well as good ones. The shame of race based slavery in our history, when sane nations knew better, is nearly unbearable. Our treatment of First Americans was dreadful by the standards Americans set for themselves.
We quickly assert that our national shame is not, after all, our personal shame. This is true, but it means we cannot take personal pride in the greatness of America. I benefit from the Constitution, but did not write it. My duty is to preserve it.
Another problem with the great blessing of being an American is to turn our wonderful nation into an idol. We are exceptional in many ways and some of them are bad. A patriot loves his nation and is proud of her achievements, but also is ashamed when we fail. Patriots take pride when we liberate nations and shame when we torture prisoners.
In the end, Christians are called to deal with nations, but love men. We are not just a member of a group, our jobs, or a tiny fragment of humanity. There is no human being in the entire world that is unloved or forgotten by God. Every human being is created in His image and has a remarkable chance at redemption.
John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.
Publication date: December 7, 2010