I have just finished listening Light and Glory. I picked it up in an Audible.com sale for $5. I had heard it was a good book and didn’t even bother to read the description, after all it was $5. I honestly thought it was about early missionaries. Had Audible had the complete title on their page I might not have purchased it. The complete title is “The Light and the Glory:1492-1793 (God’s Plan for America).
I started listening to the introduction and I was hit with a wave of “Manifest Destiny“. The basic idea of this book is that God has blessed the creation of the United States and most history ignores or actively minimizes both the role of Christianity and the active intervention by God in the creation of the US. So this book tries to show how God was drawing his people to what would become the US.
I will blog about the book itself a bit later, but I want to start with a post about my discomfort with the basic thesis. First of all, I am uncomfortable with the language of a “chosen people”. I am uncomfortable, not because I don’t believe that the US has had a blessed history, but because that idea has been so misused. The concept was used in westward expansion to eliminate Native American populations. The concept was expanded to the US’s imperial ideas of the late 19th and early 2oth century (Philippines, Cuba, Spanish American War, etc.)
I am also uncomfortable with the idea that the US is a “chosen people” theologically. The Puritans and many since have appropriated the Old Testament ideas of corporate covenant and imported it wholesale to the US. I think that is a misuse of scripture. First, the covenant was made by God with Israel and we can’t make God have a covenant with us, if it is not his choice. But the authors of this book I think would say that there are signs that God has attempted to covenant with us.
My final intellectual issue with the idea of this book is that it attempts to view history through the lens of God’s physical and spiritual intervention in the creation of the country. It explicitly attempts to illustrate how people followed God and were blessed and places where people did not follow God and either had the blessing removed, were cursed or were chastised by God to draw them back in line. I intellectually assent to the possibility that God has done all of these things, and even that God has done all of these things with the US. My problem is discerning how we know where God actively blessed or cursed or chastised and where God allowed the natural results of people’s work to bring about good and bad results.
Essentially for me this is the problem with people (John Piper, Pat Robertson and many others) claiming that a particular natural disaster or war or terrorist attack is a results of particular sin. What I have never understood is how we know which sin the disaster is in response to. Or why Christians tend to think sexual sins or abortion are much more likely to result in condemnation than abandonment of the poor or unnecessary war lack of observance of the Sabbath.
After thinking about this for a couple weeks after finishing the book, I am still troubled. It is not that I don’t think God can choose a country to have a covenant with, I think God choose Israel. My issue is that I just don’t know that God really has chosen us and this book hasn’t changed my mind.