It is a sad reality that human beings, much like the rest of the animal world, are territorial creatures. We pick our spaces, our plots of land, our geographically fixed allegiances, and we will kill and destroy to make sure it remains ours. From a purely natural perspective, this seems to be what would be called a “necessary evil.” It is difficult to argue with that notion, and I don’t suppose myself to have a good rebuttal to it, although someone might. What should a people do when they are threatened by tyrants? What should they do when their economic resources are threatened abroad by some agitator, and allowing it to go without consequence would mean economic collapse? Thus, it would seem, this is in fact a necessary evil. War is a necessary evil, but it is one that we would be nothing but animals if we did not despise it.
When it comes to patriotism, to celebrations such as the 4th of July, how should Christians respond? Christians are not to be as everyone else. We don’t live as if we are just another subset of the kingdom animalia, to live and think in terms of mere survival, of territories, safety and the satisfying of our animal urges. Of course, Christians are human, and so these things are of a measure of concern, but the radicalness of Christianity is the idea of transcending our corruptible animal flesh to a life dominated by Spirit. Thus, Christ would say that his kingdom was not of this world. He had no territory, no fixed geographical allegiance. When the disciples would act proud of their national achievements such as the beauty of the temple, Jesus would remind them that not one stone would be left upon another. Perhaps we would do well to remind ourselves the same, since no kingdom is eternal but Christ’s. His kingdom was not of this world, but his kingdom would encompass it.
As Christians then, the 4th of July should be a cause for celebration, as we should love our country, not as a fixed place on a map, but as a people. Yet, we should also mourn the fact that humanity has yet to transcend the behavior of the beasts. We have yet to move past worshipping the ground we stand on and killing each other to keep it as our precious possession. We have yet to become a people who has ceased to restrain violence with more violence. We should grieve the fact that many Christians do not even know their calling, that they are to be a people not of this world, a people who transcend the cares of this world, a people who overcome evil with good and who love their enemies, a people who defeats the violence of the powers of our day with the infinite peace of Christ, not with guns and bombs, but a gospel that is the power of God.
So, how should Christians celebrate the 4th of July? We should do so with gratitude, at the sincere and great sacrifices that many before us have made, to bring about a nation they believed would be a place for future generations to flourish. We should also celebrate with hope, that one day humanity would do more than overthrow tyrants in foreign places but would join with Christ in the overthrow of death, transcending the cares of this world to be a people of peace. We should celebrate looking to a day where we could celebrate more than the independence of our young nation, but the independence of our souls from the corruptible desires of flesh, which have fueled millennia of war. We should hope for a future where humanity has ceased to believe the myth that the death of our enemies can bring lasting peace, but instead would come to believe that dying to ourselves is the way to life everlasting. We should hope and look for the day where the fireworks are to commemorate our independence from the beast that is the human heart without God. We should hope this for our nation, and we should hope this for ourselves. That is one way a Christian in the United States can celebrate the 4th of July.