The Place of Nations in Biblical Creation
In our own generation ardent nationalist movements among ethnic minorities (for example, the French Québécois in Canada, the Flemish in Belgium, the Basques in Spain) and emergent peoples (chiefly in Africa) are at fundamental odds with a utopian humanist thought stream of "one-worldism" or cosmopolitanism. The one would make an independent state of every nation, no matter how small and traditionally or economically dependent on her present host nation; the other would downgrade and eventually eradicate national consciousness and identification altogether.
Neither position is in agreement with the Biblical creation perspective. This view of the place of nations in the world is correctly summed up in the following appraisal of nations by Russian Christian dissident Vadim Borisov:
In Christian thought the world is not simply the arithmetical sum of its visible parts, but a definite hierarchy, all of whose levels are personalized. This applies even to the structure of the life of the Deity, Whose mystery is embodied in the Three Persons of the One God In Christ's time there were many peoples already existing on earth, occupying various territories, speaking various languages, and warring with one another. Was their appearance merely a historical accident? The words of the Bible about the "nations thou hast made" answer this question in the negative; the existence of peoples was part of the plan of creation, forming part of God's design for the world. (Solzhenitsyn, 1975, pp. 208-209)
Borisov rightly begins with the Christian Trinity-in-Unity as the archetype of international relations. From this starting point-God Himself, in Whose image and likeness we human beings are made, as our model and pattern-and from it alone we can correctly infer that nations are meant by our Creator to live together and to complement each other in loving harmony, yet without surrendering their respective distinct "personalities," even as do the Three distinct yet Triune Persons of the Godhead. This, the Biblical creation view of international relations and the purpose for the existence of diverse nations, is of course but a "hierarchical" (to use Borisov's word) variation of the Biblical creation pattern for all human relations in general.
No other religion and no other world view can match Christianity in providing a model or archetype for interpersonal and international relations in the Godhead Itself. As C.S, Lewis writes, "[t]he Christian idea [of the Trinity] is the only one on the market (Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 141)." Because they all reject the truth of the Trinity, none of them can look to an eternal pattern in the heavens (Hebrews 8:5) as a divine and unchanging norm for interpersonal or international relations. Whether Christless men insist upon a strictly "unitarian" God, denying the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit; whether they talk of the hazy and bloodless "unknown God" of apostate modernism or "Christian" existentialism; whether they declare they themselves are God in the ancient gnostic or modern occult- "New Age" pantheist manner; or whether they are atheists they must all depend on their own uncertain and biased imaginations in all thought and action including interpersonal/international relations. Hence they perennially sway from collectivism-tyranny to anarchy, from chauvinism to one-worldism; as Martin Luther aptly jested, unregenerate man is like a drunk riding a horse, first falling off the saddle to the right side, then to the left.
Often opposing views arise in reaction to each other and are fed by their opposition. Thus, modern nationalism arose in part as a reaction of Romanticism against the cosmopolitanism of the rationalist eighteenth century Enlightenment philosophers. Modern nationalism is a perversion of Biblical creation-based national diversity. Modern one-worldism, in its turn a reaction to nationalism run amuck in World War I and Nazism, is a perversion of Biblical creation-based international harmony and cooperation. Both these movements, of course, arose without paying the slightest heed to the pattern Set for international relations in the Trinity of the Biblical-Christian God.
The word "nations" first occurs in the Bible in Genesis 10. Here the families of the sons of Noah are listed "after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood" (Genesis 10:1-32). Although the word "nation" does not occur prior to Genesis 10, nationS were in the Creator's original plan and purpose for developing mankind and did not result from the Fall and mankind's punishment through the Flood. Even as Levi was "in the loins of Abraham" when Abraham met and paid tithes to Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:9-10), so Noah's sons and latter descendants, the founders of the post-Flood nations, were in the loins of Noah and originally in the loins of Adam when created by God. God's command to our first parents to be "fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth" (Genesis 1 :2%a), repeated to Noah after the Flood (Genesis 9:1,7) entailed the origin of nations. Our Lord Jesus Christ's own genealogy by Mary (Joseph as his supposed father and as the Son-in-law of Heli) traces His human ancestry to Judah (father of the nation of Judah), Noah's son Shem, and all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). Our sovereign God does not deal in "contingencies" as all His works from the beginning of the world are known to Him (Acts 15:18).
Genesis 10 teaches us that nations originally arise from individual men and their families. Thus God promised Abraham, "I will make of thee a great nation" (Genesis 12:1-2), and gave him the new name Abraham because He had made him a "father of many nations (--"Abraham")" (Genesis 17:4-6). God promised Abraham that he would make a great nation of his son Ishmael (Genesis 17:201, and modern Arabs trace their national origin to Ishmael. God told Aebekah that in Esau and Jacob two nations were struggling in her womb (Genesis 25:23).
As nations grow, people from other families and nations may cast their lots with them. For example, "mixed multitudes" joined the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:38). Rahab, the harlot of Jericho, and all her family joined the Israelites, and Rahab became an ancestress of Christ (Matthew 1:5), as did Ruth the Moabites, joining Naomi, her people and her God (Ruth 1:16-17; Ruth 4:13-22; Matthew 1:5). God's commandment against intermarriage of His chosen nation Israel with pagan nations (Exodus 34:1216) prefigures the separation of His chosen people and holy nation from among all nations (I Peter 2:9) and is designed to help His people keep themselves pure in the one true faith. No considerations of maintaining "racial" or "national" purity both unbiblical and factually nonsensical notions are involved.* On the contrary, God "hath made of one blood all nations of men" (Acts 17:26).
In the sight of God their Creator all nations are "as a drop of a bucket" (Isaiah 40:15). God raises up nations and destroys them as He has determined in His eternal counsel. He is not a respecter of nations any more than of persons.
This is why He warns His chosen nation Israel that if she disobeyed His voice she would perish just as "the nations which the LORD destroyeth before your face" (Deuteronomy 8:20). The Apostle Peter recognized that "in every nation (not only Israel) he that fears Him, and works righteousness, is accepted with Him" (Acts 10:35). The nations that forget God "shall be turned into hell" (Psalm 9:17); the nations of the redeemed, on the other hand, will walk in the light of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem of eternity, and be healed by the leaves of the tree of life (Revelation 21:24; 22:2b). C.S. Lewis captures the essence of what is involved in God's eternal restoration and preservation of His national created identities when he writes in one of his justly beloved Narnia stories of "the England within England, the real England" in which "no good thing is destroyed" and which is but a spur "jutting out from the great mountains of Asian [Christ]" (Lewis, The Last Sante, pp.181,182). Lewis also views the work of redemption and restoration of God-created but fallen national identities as going on already here and now: "He doesn't make two blades of grass the same: how much less two saints, two nations, two angels. the whole work of healing Tellus [the earth] depends on nursing that little spark. . which is still alive in every real people, and different in each" (Lewis, That Hideous Strength, pp.370).
That various nations do have different created identities or characters is also stated in the Bible. God not only made all nations of "one blood" but also determined The times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation" (Acts 17:26). Even as Jacob bestowed a different blessing and prophecy upon his sons and their descendants, (Genesis 49) so God has different, unique missions for the nations He raises up, such as "the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation" (Habakkuk 1:6). 'The bounds of habitation," that is, the geographic location of a nation is evidently closely connected with its identity and character. God uses both genetic inheritance and environment to shape individual people and communities such as families, tribes and nations (a Biblical categorization, as evident, for example. in Joshua 7:14-17). With us His creatures who live in time the course of our lives unrolls as it were consecutively; with Him the Omniscient, Omnipotent Creator our end is known from before our beginning. In His book "all that pertains to us was written, which in continuance was fashioned, when as yet there was none of it" (Psalm 139:16). All that pertains to us was written in His book, including our own decisions and actions exercising stewardship or dominion over the works of His hands under Him, or in puny and futile rebellion against Him as the case may be. May we, like chastened Nebuchadnezzar king of great Babylon come to understand that The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will" and "praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase" (Daniel 4:32b, 37).
Because God fashioned our nations, it is right to care for and love them much as we care for and love our parents, families and homes. The Psalmist of old exclaims, "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, 0 Jerusalem, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy" (Psalm 137:4-6). The love of community, family. and nation is given us to reflect and train us for the love of the New Jerusalem, the community of the saints in eternity. They are mistaken who would have us discard this earthly reflection so we might either be wholly "otherworldly" already here or pay allegiance only to the ideal of transnational harmony. As God fashioned our nations, which will continue to exist even in eternity among the redeemed (nationality is an indelible part of our individual created identities), the harmony and mutual blessings between the nations which is His good will for them cannot and will not be achieved by eradication of nations. The great Russian Christian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky was right when he wrote in his notebook: "The nation is nothing more than the national personality" (Solzhenitsyn, p.204). It is true that we must warn against love of our nation perverted to chauvinist pride, saying with British writer Rudyard Kipling (often accused of just this sin):
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart
Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget lest we forget !
For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word -
Thy mercy on thy people, Lord!
But a sweet, innocent love of the country and people among whom our lord has placed us in His good providence, a love of America as the "sweet land of liberty" and of its "rocks and rills, woods and temples hills;" a love, tender and perhaps fondly humorous, such as Agatha Christie's conversation between a traveling Englishwoman and a Russian lady who asks her personal questions and then, as she is met with hesitation, bursts out laughing: "Ah, but that is so English. You think it impertinent if I ask the questions that we Russians feel are so natural," (Agatha Christie, Absent in the Spring, p.168) such love is a childlike rejoicing in our nation as God's good gift to us. One aspect of love of nation pleasing to God the Maker of nations is rebuking of our nation's sins and calling for national repentance in the light of Scripture and in heartfelt grief. For with His nations too God in fatherly love would prefer not the death of the sinner but that he should turn from his sins and live, and to that end He raises up national watchmen (Ezekiel 3:4-21). It is a sign of godless arrogance, much evident, alas, in many contemporary Western "opinion leaders," to castigate one's own nation out of contempt for her mingled with "oneworldist" desire for her abolition. We must overcome the evil of which our nations are guilty not with pharisaic, leveling evil of our own but with good, speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Academicians have taken note of the perennial rise of individual nations and attempted to systematize the factors in their development. In a voluminous and evenhanded study Hugh Seton-Watson slates that many attempts have been made to define nations, and none have been successful" (Seton-Walson, Nations and States, p.3). He also cites with some irony the would-be "scientific" definition of a nation by Joseph Stalin: "All that Stalin could say was that a nation must have four characteristics: a common language, a common territory, a common economic life and a common mental make-up. . Stalin mentioned neither religion nor historical tradition" (SetonWatson, pp.3-4). Highlights in his work include very useful chapters on nations under the rule of other nations in multi-national states such as Austria-Hungary and Turkey before World War I, or diaspora nations (such as Armenians, overseas Chinese and overseas Indians), and on the development of national official languages (such as the "Langue d'oui" of northern France which secured ascendancy over the southern French "Langue d'oc."' by the Edict of Villers-Cotterets in 1539) (Seton-Watson, p.48). His chapters on emergent nations in East Asia and Africa (Seton-Watson, Chapters 7 and 8) are an excellent, concise contemporary history of nations being raised up by our Lord even as we are looking on.
Another excellent study is John A. Armstrong's Nations Before Nationalism, despite its tentative attempts to identify various "myths" as normative for the formation of nations (Armstrong does "emphasize the tentative nature of my formulations") (Armstrong, p.13). From the Biblical creation perspective we cannot agree with Armstrong's mentor Fredrik Barth, a Norwegian anthropologist who proposes a "social interaction model of ethnic identity" rejecting a fixed character or essence for the "group" (nation) but focusing on the perceptions of its members of what makes them differ from other groups (Armstrong, pp.4-5). Armstrong then centers on nomadic and sedentary ways of life producing differing "nostalgia's" of primeval states of bliss, the territorial (sedentary) versus the genealogical (nomadic) principles of European over against mid-Eastern nations, and the "Mesopotamian myth" of the polity (=organized community) "as a reflection of heavenly rule" (Armstrong, p.13 and ChapterS). He believes that language is "rarely salient" in the formation of group identity in the prenationalist era (p.13 and Chapter 8); our emphasis from the Biblical creation perspective would be somewhat different in view of Biblical characterizations of nations "whose tongue thou shalt not understand" (Deuteronomy 28:49), and the confusion of the original single worldwide language at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). Note, however, that the first mention of nations in Genesis 10 does not refer to different languages.
Armstrong places his entire work within the overall context of Christendom's struggle with Islam, emphasizing their border conflicts in Spain, the Balkans and also in Russia. He has a good discussion on the lasting influence of the Roman Empire's administration over many nations by way of good territorial organization, true also for the Greek model of city (polis) administration by way of the Byzantine Empire (pp.21-23). The rise of nations as successors of crumbling "cosmopolitan" empires is a pattern established initially at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) and predicted for latter history in Daniel 2:31-45, ending in the establishment of God's own kingdom which will "stand for ever" (Daniel 2:44).
Two interesting works Hans Kohn's Nationalism and Ernest Geliner's Nations and Nationalism -deal with the phenomenon of modern nationalism which claims that each nation should be as autonomous as possible. Kohn gives a brief history of the modern (chiefly nineteenth century) nationalist movement in Europe and then furnishes a fascinating collection of readings from twenty-four primary sources (including excerpts from Napoleon, Ernest Aenan, Dostoyevsky, Richard Wagner, Mussolini, Nehru and Sun YatSen). Factors of interest for the present discussion are a nation's sense of "messianism" or "manifest destiny;" economic productivity and territorial base; historical legends and traditions; cultural cohesiveness; attempts at supra-national ethnic ties (such as Panslavism or "Nordic/Teutonic" appeals); changes in political structure (such as the wane of feudalism); and the ambitions of individual leaders. Not all of these need to be strong, or even present, to make a nation. Gellner offers the following "Makeshift temporary" definition:
[Nations maketh man; nations are the artefacts of men's convictions and loyalties and solidarities. A mere category of persons (say, occupants of a given territory, or speakers of a given language, for example) becomes a nation if and when the members of the category firmly recognize certain mutual rights and duties to each other in virtue of their shared membership of it. It is their recognition of each other as fellows of this kind which turns them into a nation, and not the other shared attributes, whatever they might be, which separate that category from non-members. (Gellner, p.7)
This definition is correct from the Biblical creation perspective. Abraham became the father of the nation of Israel and of many nations because he responded to God's voice calling him out of Ur of the Chaldees. The sons and descendants of Noah fathered nations peopling the earth after the Flood by family-tribal cohesion reinforced (after their sinful, God-defying lapse into "one-worldism" at Babel) through linguistic separation. As happens universally and throughout history, members of foreign nations may sever their ties with their native countries to cast their lot and loyalty with others, as did Rahab and Ruth; America became and grew as a nation because huge numbers of immigrants from all over the world did just that. Nationality, in Scripture and in observed fact, is thus an attribute of individual men and women they may co-determine under God as part (but not the whole, and not the core) of their created identities.
This leads us to the conclusion that, after all, and as we always knew from the Biblical creation perspective, The individual is not only more important but incomparably more important" than a nation (Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.73). We, you and I, make choices about whether and what our nations, as part of ourselves, shall be. We, you and I, redeemed from or condemned among all nations, shall inherit the Father's Kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world - or else depart into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:33,41). It is by way of you and I that there will be nations in hell and nations in the New Jerusalem of eternity. Our nation, then, is part of our temporal and even eternal stewardship under God our Creator.
Note; *For an excellent. thorough study of "race" and marriage. see Thomas M. Brown, Jr., Race and Interracial Marriage: A Biblical Survey and Perspective, Creation Social Science and Humanities Quarterly. Vol. VII, No.1 (Fall 1 9B4}, pp.5-14.
Armstrong, John A. Nations Before Nationalism. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1982.
A fascinating investigation of the emergence of nations concentrating on the wider Context of Christendom's struggle with Islam.
Christie, Agatha (writing as Mary Westmacott. Absent in the Spring. New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1944, 1972.
Gellner, Ernest. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1983.
A concise treatment of the ingredients of nationalism.
Kohn, Hans. Nationalism. Princeton and New York: d. Van Nostrand Company, Inc. 1955.
Author'S description of the history of the nationalist movement precedes 24 readings of primary source statements on the meaning of nations and nationalism.
Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Paperbacks Edition 1960, Seventeenth Printing 1973.
____________ That Hideous Strength. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., First Paperbacks Edition 1965.
____________ The Last Battle. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Collier Books, 1956.
Seton-Watson, Hugh. Nations and States. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Inc., 1977.
Virtually a world history, emphasizing the development of nations within states, from the Roman Empire to our own time. Very instructive.
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander, ed. From Under the Rubble. Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1975.
Contains Solzhenitsyn's essays on repentance and self-limitation in the life of nations, and a beautiful, thought-provoking, Biblically founded essay, "Personality and National Awareness," by Russian Christian dissident Vadim Borisov.