Patriotism and the Christian

This short article was written for a Ukrainian publication almost 14 years ago. With the increasing possibility of a full military invasion by Russia looming on the horizon (after and already ongoing eight-year-conflict leaving more than 13,000 dead), thoughts of the Christian response to the issues of patriotism, nationalism, and war seem more pertinent now than ever. Please pray for Ukraine!

When the terrorists crashed the planes into the Twin Towers in New York City, I felt a sense of patriotism in a commiserative sort of way. Even though I was 7500 kilometers away from that tragic event I still felt united in the loss and sense of violation that occurred through that attack.

Patriotism is a love of fatherland; a strong attachment to one’s country and culture of origin which is manifested even in times of conflict or war. Patriotism stresses the need for the individual to place the interests of the nation above their own, and that the individual has a greater moral duty to his fellow citizens than to foreigners. In discussing patriotism, it seems that people have different understandings of it. Some say it is bad, other that it is good. What is my opinion as an American, Christian, and a missionary?

I believe that there are positive aspects to patriotism. First, a healthy love of one’s country can result in humanitarian acts shown to those around you. The natural desire to help your nation and to see it succeed can drive a person to constructive action. A true patriot has a zeal for the uplifting, protecting, and advancing of their country. Next, patriotism is a self-sacrificing motivator toward the defending of family, friends, and that which is held dear to the individual. Conversely, a lack of patriotism is often interpreted to be threat to the fatherland.

On a negative side, patriotism can easily lead to nationalism – the thought that one’s nation is right no matter what. George Orwell said, “Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power.” Also, patriotism can result in negative feelings toward foreigners within your country, other cultures and ways of doing things, as well as in an unhealthy independence from others in our ever-shrinking, globalized world.

Personally, I am proud to be an American, but not always. After having lived overseas for so many years, it seems that there are times when I am NOT supposed to be proud to be an American. When people hold views contrary to those espoused by the leadership of the USA, I sense that I am supposed to agree with them in an almost unpatriotic sort of way. Although I may disagree with the leadership of my country at times, it is similar to someone talking bad about your brother – even though you may fight with him at home, no one else has the right to talk bad about him.

The Apostle Paul seems to me to be the prime example of a patriot. He loved his people, traditions, and heritage. In Romans 9, Paul writes regarding his strong desire for the salvation of his countrymen according to the flesh. In another place he writes that he considered himself a Hebrew of the Hebrews, from good stock – the tribe of Benjamin, more in line with the culture and traditions of his time than others. Yet, this is the same Paul who said that he counts it all as dung, in comparison to knowing Jesus Christ.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Patriotism is a love for country, homeland, and community. For us as believers, we are now citizens of heaven – this world is not our spiritual home, but we are just passing through. My passport still says U.S.A., but when worldly patriotism conflicts with my love for and obedience to the things of God, my loyalty to the Kingdom of God must come first. It was Paul who said that he became all things to all people that he might win some, and that we should imitate him as he imitated Christ. Can I say that I am prepared to act that way towards a foreigner in my country? One of Jesus’ disciples, Simon the Zealot, was a patriot – perhaps even more of a nationalist. Yet, we read nothing of his political actions, military motivations, or dreams of defending his physical homeland. Instead we see him being sent out by Jesus to preach the message of the kingdom of heaven. Overall, I believe that patriotism is a positive characteristic, yet if unchecked it can hinder the spreading of the Gospel.

Jed Gourley
February 20, 2008
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Why Do Bad Things Happen to God’s People?

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”– Revelation 2:7

Earlier this week the world woke up to devastating news—news which we had already been grieving for a few days. The tragic deaths of Ryan and Lora Smith and their four-year-old son, Caleb, have pierced the hearts of the American-expat, Georgian, and Azerbaijani communities alike. This family who had been living in the country of Georgia for the last several years, and who were so intent on remaining here that they even acquired Georgian citizenship, were murdered while on a camping trip less than an hour’s drive from the capital city of Tbilisi. At the time of this writing, the factors surrounding this horrific crime continue to change depending on who tells the story. The Georgian government has released conflicting reports, and as a result, news articles covering their deaths have changed as well. This abrupt taking of life remains shrouded in mystery. But I do not want to write about the circumstances of their deaths. I want to ponder two questions: who were the Smiths, and why do bad things happen to God’s people?


Lora, four-year-old son, Caleb, and Ryan Smith. Missionary Family Murdered in Georgia.

Yes, I said “God’s people.” Why? Although the abundance of news articles currently blanketing the internet speak of Ryan’s fabulous carpet business, of Lora’s English classes in a local school, and of their desire to build a park for kids in their community with their own money, Ryan and Lora Smith were first and foremost missionaries who were sharing their lives and their Christian faith with those in the southern, mostly-Azerbaijani populated region of Marneuli, Georgia. I first met the Smiths four years ago at an international church service in Tbilisi. My path would later cross with Ryan at conferences and other events. I envied his knowledge of the Azerbaijani language, his inroads into the local community, and his knowledge of the culture. His passion for his work, love for his family, and gift for working with people have all been highly attested to. The Smiths were “God’s people,” serving Him by reaching out to this impoverished, difficult, and spiritually needy region of the world.

Why did this happen? Why this family? In our sorrow Scripture whispers to us on behalf of this family, “Death is working in us, but life in you.” We believe that God can and will take this tragedy and use it for His glory. Why in this manner? It all seems so meaningless! To our questioning hearts Scripture shouts to us on behalf of this family, “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”

What is God’s answer to us? It is not meaningless! There is purpose in the suffering and even death of the believer. It is producing something heavy—an eternal weight of glory—for them. Although it seems to be producing only grief in my life now, I shift my eyes from the seemingly meaningless death of friends and colleagues to the rock-hard truth of Scripture. “Look to the unseen, my heart! Look to that which is invisible to the naked eye! Look to the eternal!” There is wondrous glory, reward, and honor granted to this family! I choose to preach to my heart and mind, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed…” For the Smith family, this glory was revealed the moment they departed this sinful, fallen world, and stepped into eternity.

As noted by John Piper, one of the most seemingly senseless deaths in the Bible was that of John the Baptist. Due to the whimsical offer of a king after the dance of a girl at a party, John’s head was cut off and laid on a platter. “Meaningless!” we scream. But what was Jesus’ evaluation of John? “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.”

Commenting on the passage in Second Corinthians, chapter four, John Piper says, “Not only is all your affliction momentary. Not only is all your affliction light, in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful! Now that is a very controversial statement because of all the insane suffering there is in the world. Every time something horrific happens an interviewer will say ‘Meaningless.’ That is what it looks like…. This text says, ‘Our light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight.’ It doesn’t say ‘will be followed by an eternal weight of glory.’ That would be good enough. But that’s not what it says…. I’ll venture this. Every millisecond from the pain of your fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that…. If anybody says to me that a believer’s suffering was meaningless, I’ll be quiet, probably, because they’re hurting really bad. But I’m going to come back eventually and say, ‘It wasn’t meaningless…’ It’s doing something! It’s doing something! Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. This is the main unseen thing verse eighteen is talking about. What’s the unseen you’re supposed to look at?  You’re supposed to look at the promise of God in verse seventeen that says your pain is doing something for you. You can’t see it. You can’t feel it. Either you see it with the eyes of faith, believe it because the text says it, or you lose heart.”


Now Rejoicing in the Presence of Their King

Why do bad things happen to God’s people? Every morning I wake up wishing this tragedy had never occurred. I grieve that we live in a fallen, broken world. Injustice reigns. Calamity befalls believer and unbeliever alike. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. We find our solace in the sovereignty of God. We find our peace in the meaningful sacrifice of the Prince of Peace. We find our way through the pain of loss by means of the unseen gain produced by suffering. As Job said, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.” He also wrote, “And after my flesh is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.” And so, as Job, we treasure the words of God more than our necessary food. And we choose to believe that God is working all things together for good to those who love Him. While our hearts grieve at the unspeakable loss, and while tears roll down our cheeks as we consider the loved ones of the Smiths, we choose to look to that which is unseen, to the unchanging Scripture that both whispers comfort and shouts truth to us in our pain.

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?– I John 5:4-5


MIA Confirms American Family Murdered in Dusheti — Georgia Today 7/9/2018
Father, toddler son shot dead in Georgia; mother falls into ravine while fleeing attacker, officials say — Fox News 7/10/2018
Dream-Weavers’ Deaths Leave Georgian Town At A Loss — RFERL 7/11/2018
None of Our Misery is Meaningless — John Piper
Overcome — Jeremy Camp

Other Scriptures Used

II Corinthians 4:12
II Corinthians 4:17-18
Romans 8:18
Matthew 11:11
Job 13:15
Job 19:26
Romans 8:28

Saturday July 12th–Distant Fields at Crawfordsville Public Library

For tomorrow only, Distant Fields will be available at the Montgomery County Writer’s Fair. The fair will take place at the pavilion behind the public library from 10-12 in the morning. Renee Gourley, daughter of George Markey, will be present to answer any questions and share the story of her father and his continuing legacy.