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Does God Promise to Bless America?

In 1976, as America celebrated its 200th birthday, the number one song in many of the nation’s churches was Neil Enloe’s “Statue of Liberty.” The Dove Award Song of the Year likened the cross to the statue as a powerful symbol of freedom. In the same year, Jimmy and Carol Owens popularized a song that helped a generation of Christians memorize 2 Chronicles 7:14 (KJV): “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

During America’s bicentennial year, nostalgic yearning for better days created a unique historical context. In “God and Country” worship services, “If My People” was performed and accompanied by patriotic symbols like the American flag. Sight and sound fixed in many minds that 2 Chronicles 7:14 was about America. “My people” were Americans, and “their land” was the United States. And in 1976, the United States needed healing.

In the three years prior, Americans had endured the energy crisis, Roe v. Wade, the Watergate hearings, Richard Nixon’s resignation, the fall of Saigon, the worst tornado outbreak on record, unprecedented divorce rates, and a recession that ended the post–World War II economic expansion. America had lost her way, and the reason was obvious to the nation’s evangelicals: America left God, so God was leaving America. But if they returned, God would heal the nation and restore American greatness.

In 1977, Peter Marshall coauthored The Light and the Glory. Marshall’s Ivy League credentials bolstered his claims that the American people were meant to be “a light to lighten the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32, KJV) and that America was “God’s new Promised Land.” Marshall’s work provided the cement that joined 2 Chronicles 7:14 to the U.S.

In 1980, with a view to bringing America “back to God,” evangelicals helped elect Ronald Reagan. America now had a wise Solomon, and hope was growing that God would heal the land’s spiritual, economic, and military sickness through political means. On January 20, 1981, Reagan was sworn in on the Capitol steps, with his left hand on his mother’s Bible open to 2 Chronicles 7:14. The cement had cured.

There are two common mistakes regarding 2 Chronicles 7:14. The first is to abuse it, using it to justify a flag-wrapped form of prosperity theology. The second is to excuse it, as if it weren’t “written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4). Because it’s God’s Word, it’s wise to ask, How should we apply 2 Chronicles 7:14? Here are four guidelines.

1. Clarify the context.

The famous verse addresses a specific people, place, and time. The “people” is Israel. The place is the promised “land.” The time is Solomon’s reign while the Mosaic covenant is active. If Israel obeys, God will bless them in the land by securing their borders and strengthening their economy. But if they turn from him, he’ll raise up adversaries and ruin their crops. By wounding their land, he’ll provoke them to repentance. In love, he’ll sacrifice their comfort to secure their commitment.

There are two common mistakes regarding 2 Chronicles 7:14. The first is to abuse it. The second is to excuse it.

The promise is to God’s redeemed people in the promised land during the only legitimate theocracy in history. Israel’s kings were duty-bound to execute idolaters, blasphemers, and false prophets. By walking in God’s ways and purging the land of rebels, the kings forestalled God’s judgment. When the kings failed, God sent his people into exile as a landless “holy nation” (Ex. 19:6).

Under the new covenant, God’s redeemed people are likewise a landless “holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9). Scattered over the earth, we build houses, raise families, go to work, and “seek the welfare” (Jer. 29:7) of our nation by cooperating with non-Christians in economic and political pursuits for the common good. Like synagogues in the exile, churches represent the true God among idolaters. We cross national borders with Bibles, not bombs, and multiply peacemaking embassies among the nations.

Because our time and place drastically differ from Solomon’s, we proceed with caution.

2. Consider the church’s ‘wicked ways.’

While the verse doesn’t directly apply to America, it certainly applies to the  American church. The four conditions of humbling, praying, seeking, and turning are elements of biblical repentance.

Does the church in America need to repent of wicked ways? Are we guilty of pride, idolatry, greed, ingratitude, corrupt leadership, financial and sexual scandal, factions, false teaching, counterfeit gospels, partiality, and injustice?

While the verse doesn’t directly apply to America, it certainly applies to the  American church.

Are whole denominations in moral rebellion against God? Is there more reliance on clever strategies, branding, and rhetorical skill than on the Holy Spirit? Has political activism supplanted desperate pleas for God to open hearts to “pay attention” to the gospel (Acts 16:14)? Is there more passion for telling non-Christians how to vote than how to know Christ? Do we pursue church growth while neglecting church discipline? Are third-order controversies diverting energy from disciple-making? Are church members theologically inept, biblically illiterate, and digitally gullible? Are Very Online pastors wasting precious time on social media? Are evangelical leaders slandering one another to impress their theological tribe?

Second Chronicles 7:14 isn’t given to us to judge Americans outside the church. It’s given to us to judge our own hearts. It’s not a rebuke to “them.” It’s a rebuke to “us.” It’s not a window through which we criticize the world’s wickedness. It’s a mirror by which we call out our own.

3. Confirm what God promised.

Under the Mosaic covenant, God promised to bless obedient Israel with both spiritual and material prosperity. But God made no such promise to the U.S. or its churches. Some of the world’s most faithful churches and obedient Christians endure poverty, not prosperity; persecution, not peace. For now, God only promises to bless the faithful church with spiritual blessings such as salvation, forgiveness, unity, fruitfulness, endurance in suffering, and his faithful presence (Eph. 1:3).

Material blessings do await the church. God does promise health and wealth to his people. As the adopted children and legal heirs of the Father, all that is his belongs to all who are his. In the new earth, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain” (Rev. 21:4). We already have the spiritual blessings of the new covenant, but unending health and wealth come after we finish the race, not before (Heb. 12:1–3).

Second Chronicles 7:14 isn’t a window through which we criticize the world’s wickedness. It’s a mirror by which we call out our own.

Even if the church in America experiences historic revival, there’s no covenantal guarantee that God will pour out physical, material, military, and economic blessings on America. For his own secret purposes, God “makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away” (Job. 12:23).

4. Concentrate on passages directed to all nations.

At least since 1976, evangelicals have asked too much of 2 Chronicles 7:14. Other passages can carry the load because they address nations that, like America, are not theocratic Israel.

Rome received God’s wrath because of its moral rebellion (Rom. 1:18). Nineveh postponed God’s wrath because it repented (Jonah 3:10). Sodom incurred God’s wrath because it didn’t repent (Jude 7). God holds the U.S. government responsible for enforcing the second table of the Ten Commandments (Rom. 13:1–10), so we pray for officials to wisely maintain public order and to guard our freedom to publicly obey the first table (1 Tim. 2:1–4).

True Patriotism

And this is where we can agree with those patriotic, neighbor-loving impulses of 1976. If we love America, we’ll intercede for her. We’ll plead for justice, peace, and prosperity in our communities. We’ll pray with a willingness to be God’s answer to our prayers through faithful witness, mercy ministries, peaceful protest, and principled political engagement. We’ll petition God with the confidence that a hundred thousand years from now, the U.S. will have gone the way of all nations, but his church will be flourishing on the earth. We’ll pray knowing that God is the Potter, the nations are clay, and he has declared his sovereign prerogative to bless any nation that “turns from its evil” and to withhold good from any nation that doesn’t (Jer. 18:7–10).

How will America hear God’s voice? Through the humble, praying, God-seeking, sin-hating, spiritually healed churches of America. For judgment begins “at the household of God” (1 Pet. 4:17).

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