Reflections on Babylon—and our own hearts, too

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,
And to the Republic for which it stands,
One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

We recently observed Flag Day in America. I have always enjoyed that day. I have loved hanging the red, white, and blue; thinking about all the people who helped to build it; and thanking God for their gifts and His blessing. I have considered other countries around the globe where the hardened hearts of government regimes have left their citizens oppressed and impoverished; and again, I have thanked God for the freedoms that we have in this country.

This Flag Day, however, was different. I still gratefully hung the stars and stripes. I still thanked God for this country and all who went before me to develop it. But this year the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery arrested my attention and moved me to look at our flag through different lenses. I am now able to see that the blue background seemingly uniting our 50 state stars might have some cracks. The white stripes might not seem quite so pure to my fellow countrymen. And the red stripes that remind me of the blood shed willingly for our freedom could also represent the blood that has been spilled from abuses of our freedoms. Abuses of US citizens by US citizens solely because of the color of their skin.

This year, I realize that the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag is hard for many of my fellow citizens to say, because our country is not feeling so indivisible, and liberty and justice is not reaching all.

Why am I seeing all of this so clearly this year? Why has my heart finally been broken to the point of understanding things differently? I can’t really tell you. All I can do is take seriously the words of Deuteronomy 29:29b: “the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” God has revealed the truth of my fellow countrymen’s struggle and my part in it, and it is now time for me to work for change. If I don’t, then I am precariously aligning myself with Team Babylon of the Bible.

Let me explain. Yesterday I listened to Pastor Tim Armstrong’s teaching on the second chapter of Habakkuk. As I read through the story of the Babylonians’ oppression of God’s people in Judah, I was convicted and deeply saddened. Pastor Armstrong explained the first three of five characteristics of the unrighteous—characteristics that were practiced by the Babylonians and that the listener was warned not to repeat. In a nutshell, the Babylonians were

  • Ravaged with greed – They could never get enough of anything, so they constantly went after more, no matter who it hurt.
  • Exploitive – They abused others’ weaknesses for their gain.
  • Violent – Habakkuk 2:5b says, “He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.” In other words, the Babylonians practiced slave labor, and they went to great lengths to acquire and keep those slaves.

As I heard the pastor’s descriptions I had to pause. I had to look deep into my own heart—a heart that has been saved by the grace of God and sealed by the Holy Spirit—and ask how well I am reflecting my righteous Savior. Am I abiding in Christ and bearing the fruit of His Spirit? Or am I greedily trying to fill God-sized holes in my heart with worldly treasure? Am I seeing the world through the lens of my Savior, who sees neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28)? Or am I conveniently overlooking the weaknesses and struggles of others so that I can continue to pursue my own gain? Finally, am I embracing the words of Micah 6:8 and seeing what God sees as good—to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with Him? Or am I allowing self-centeredness to blind me to the violence and struggles around me?

I realize that these words are not the feel-good “soup for the soul” that our hearts crave. Forgive me for that. But sometimes, you must stare yourself in the face and ask, “Where am I?” My personal soul search has revealed some blindness and biases I’d rather not see, let alone confess. But God promises us that if we confess our sins, He will be faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness—the very characteristics that Habakkuk ascribed to the Babylonians. Let’s not overlook the good news of Habakkuk, though! His warnings are followed by a promise: God wins!

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.”
(Habakkuk 2:14)

Friend, one day God’s glory will shine as far as the waters cover the sea! Victory will be won for good! Until then, those of us who know Him as our Savior have the opportunity to reflect His glory every day wherever we go. How? Every Christ-follower can and should flee from greed and seek the wellbeing of our neighbors. Every Christian should exploit no one, but submit ourselves to God so we may exhibit the fruit of His Spirit. And every son and daughter of the Savior must abhor violence and stand indivisibly with our neighbors, seeking justice for all. Most of all, every believer should tell others about the One who paid a debt He did not owe to grant everyone a freedom no one could ever earn.

Pray that God would move in our nation, humble us, and bring justice for all. Let’s fly the flag of our Creator. His banner over us is love. May we share it generously.

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