As National Day rolls round again, and we celebrate Singapore’s 55th day of independence, I can’t help but wonder: What does it really mean to love a country?
As a citizen, I feel an innate loyalty to the place that I was born in. I can think of reasons why I would want it to succeed, and why I would defend it. And I would express it by contributing to it in ways I can, like paying taxes and doing things that promote its peace and progress.
But I also ask myself: What is my loyalty based on? Is it an emotional affinity to the physical country, my neighbourhood, or the people in it? Is it affected by matters of politics and leadership? Is it conditional—am I loyal because of how I have benefited from growing up and living here?
Matters of nationhood, citizenry, and loyalty always make for a lively conversation. The Bible, interestingly, offers a perspective of “loving a nation” that may challenge parts of our modern notions of national loyalty.
When Israel was conquered by Babylon and the Israelites captured and exiled there, God told them:
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city
to which I have carried you into exile.
Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers,
you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
To be honest, I would have been absolutely flabbergasted by this instruction. Why would I pray for a merciless superpower that just destroyed my nation and deported me? And why should I seek its prosperity? Shouldn’t I be joining some kind of rebellion to overthrow my conqueror instead?
Taking a closer look at God’s instruction, however, reveals some biblical approaches that reflect the nature of God and His upside-down kingdom.
First, loving a nation is a choice. The Israelites are to contribute to Babylon’s “peace and prosperity”, and to pray for it. In the Bible, “love” is a conscious decision. It is a multi-faceted thing that is expressed in deliberate actions, godly attitudes, and a sincere heart of care and compassion shaped after God’s own heart for us (see 1 Corinthians 13:4–7). It is not based merely on feelings, which can change.
Second, it’s unconditional. We’re not sure whether the Babylonians, at least at this point, treated their captives well or not, but God’s instruction to the Israelites wasn’t based on reciprocity. He didn’t say, “If they treat you well, then seek their peace.” Rather, the Israelites were told that if they obeyed God, then they would be blessed by Babylon’s fortune.
Third, it’s totally counter-intuitive. The Israelites had just been captured by the Babylonians, and now, they were being told to love their enemy! To a loyal citizen of a proud nation, that would just not make sense. To a follower in God’s nation of believers, however . . . well, isn’t it exactly in line with what Jesus taught? In fact, Jesus’ call to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) mirrors His Father’s instructions to the Israelites. Loving our enemy acknowledges God’s sovereignty over our heart and lives, because we recognise that He has created all and loves all, and that His divine ways are higher than our human logic.
Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to apply all this to our feelings for Singapore, especially in our current context. But understanding God’s view of people and nations offers us a fresh perspective of what it means to seek the peace and prosperity of this city. Whether we’re a citizen, a resident, or a sojourner, I believe we can celebrate Singapore’s National Day with a heart that draws its love and devotion from God’s own heart.
Father, I pray for the peace and prosperity
of the city that You have placed me in,
knowing that I am here because of
Your sovereign plan and love.