I originally wrote this in December 2001, but the message it conveys is still true for us today. Consider it’s meaning for the present hour we find ourselves in.
What do most Americans mean when they say, “God bless America?” It undoubtedly has become a popular slogan, but I question the intent of many behind the request. My observation would be that many that petition God with the request that He “bless” America, are in reality, asking Him for a restoration of what we had as a nation before September 11th. I am afraid that our desire for God’s blessing is so we can continue to have economic prosperity, tranquility, and no loss of personal convenience. We want God to bless us with a ”booming” economy, lower gas prices, more leisure time, and winning sports teams. In the midst of all the “God-talk”, I have heard little said about the need to confess and repent in order to expect God’s blessing. How can we truly expect the blessing of God on us as a nation, while continuing to act in ways, which violate His laws? The teaching of Deuteronomy 28 is that the blessings or curses are dependent upon our obedience to His commands.
In Luke 8:26-39 we have the story of Jesus’ encounter with the demonized man in the country of the Gadarenes. We read how this man, driven by demons, had terrorized the villagers of the area. Jesus came up on the scene, and not only freed the man from demonic bondage, but delivered the Gadarenes from their “terroristic threat.” Nevertheless, note in verse 37 the reaction of the people to Jesus was to ask Him to leave. He delivered them from their problem. But, as is always the case when He comes, He is never willing to arrive on the scene as simply a deliverer. He intends to come as Lord. He comes with the authority to claim control over the lives that are there. It was this “Lordship” that the Gadarenes resisted. The attitude of these people suggested the title for this column. They typify a host of people who are always ready to say: “Deliver us from our problems, but let us keep our pigs.”
Some people criticize what they call “the ruthless act of destroying the pigs.” But, as many Bible commentators point out, the settlement of the Gadarenes was a settlement of the Jews. With full knowledge of the law they lived in direct disobedience to God, for a Jew was never to keep pigs. Rationalizing (no doubt on the basis of the barrenness of the land) the inability to keep anything but pigs, they winked at the law of God. Possibly they used the money, on occasion, to further God’s work so they could ease their consciences and continue in sin. Many times I have had people come to me with their problems crying out for deliverance. But, when all is said and done, they walk away clutching their “pigs.” They want deliverance without repentance. They want forgiveness without obedience. They want the gift, but reject the Giver. They want the blessing, but they don’t want transformation. They may confess, even shed tears, but walk away unwilling to change.
[I am reminded of a scene in Godfather III, when Michael Corleone (the Godfather) is given the opportunity to make his confession to Cardinal Lamberto. His response is “What good is confession if I am not going to change?” Seldom have I heard a clearer statement of truth from the lips of a Hollywood “jackass.”]
God does not record this incident by accident; it is the inevitable consequence of Jesus coming on the scene. Throughout history men have tried to take “half” of Jesus and reject the other “half.” They want Him as Savior, Deliverer, and Healer. But Jesus is not content with this kind of limited role, He demands to be recognized as Lord. The world likes to wrap Jesus in the beautiful picture of love and mercy, while they reject His authority over their lives. He is a God of love and mercy, but He is also a God of integrity and justice.
Many in our nation are desirous of God’s blessing, but not to the extent of paying the price of repentance. The Greek word translated as “repentance” in the New Testament is metanoia. It is a compound Greek word consisting of the word; meta meaning “change” and noia meaning “mind.” Repentance is “to change one’s mind.” It conveys the idea of “changing course” or “turning around.” Repentance comes, when we are aware of the fact, that the direction we are heading in is wrong (displeasing to God), and we change our course of direction. In other words, “we get rid of our pigs.”
I am all for God blessing America, and other nations as well, but the issue is posturing ourselves in order to receive God’s blessing. We have, as a nation, many “pigs” we are not willing to get rid of at this time. (Abortion is only one in the “herd”.) We cannot expect the blessing of God if we refuse to obey His commandments, either as individuals or as nations. God calls upon us to forsake our way, and submit to His Kingdom. May God bless America with a spirit of repentance, so that we may turn from our evil ways (II Chron 7:14). May we take seriously the words of Psalm 9:17, which says: “The wicked will return to Sheol, even all the nations who forget God.”