Looking for a better country

The best country in the world is Germany. The second-best country in the world is Argentina. After that, it’s the Netherlands with Brazil trailing behind a close fourth. That is, if you adopt the spirit of FIFA World Cup 2014, recently played out in Rio de Janeiro. Okay, I’ll admit it. I was cheering for the men in orange to prove that my country of birth is the best country in the world. But, alas, it was not to be.

Maybe you think I am overstating the importance of winning the World Cup. I should have said Germany is the best soccer country in the world, right? Yes, but that’s not how the various soccer fans acted and felt. Every defeat felt like a descent into hell and every win like an opportunity to climb the golden stair to heaven.

I’m reminded of how we Canadians acted and felt when Canada won Olympic gold in men’s and women’s hockey in Sochi, Russia, earlier this year. The men’s team played Sweden on a Sunday morning. I caught the first period of the game before Alice and I left for church. We had to be early because we were on the welcome team.

Forty-five minutes before the service at 10, it was only the praise team and the two of us who were in the building. At 9:30, half an hour before church started, the parking lot was practically empty. At 9:40, the game ended. Five minutes later the first cars started coming onto the parking lot. From there on it was a steady stream of cars until 10 minutes after church had started. And I thought to myself, “It’s quite a challenge practising two religions at the same time.”

Respectable idolatry
I don’t remember what the sermon was about that Sunday morning, but later on, as I reflected on how from time to time we dabble in a “respectable” kind of idolatry, I wondered, what if the pastor had preached on Hebrews 11?

Hebrews 11 talks about people who lived by faith and not by sight, who realized that they were strangers and exiles on the earth and who desired “a better country.” A better country when your team has a chance to win Olympic gold or the World Cup!?

Sometimes. I hear people say we live in the best country in the world. A little bit of hubris there. It’s an odd thing to say really. How do we know what country is the best in the world? What measure do we use for that?

What would a better country look like? Maybe before we ask that question, we need to ask what a better country does not look like. For that question go to those who are at the bottom of the pile. Don’t ask the winners. Ask the street people in Toronto what a better country does not look like. Ask the slum dwellers in Detroit. Ask the starving prisoners in North Korea’s death camps. Ask the victims in war-torn Syria. They know what a better country does not look like. They know that the country they live in is by no stretch of the imagination that better country. They know there is a problem. And I hope we have enough solidarity with them to know that there is a problem rather than glowing in our own good fortune, which we all too often claim is ours by right because we worked so hard for it.

So what does a better country look like? The beginning of wisdom in this matter can be found among those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are pure in heart, those who are peacemakers, those who are persecuted because of righteousness. They understand the beginning of wisdom as to what a better country looks like. They model it.

Maybe we should imagine ourselves to be standing in the bleachers of the most important and biggest stadium in the world. I don’t know what the colour of our favourite team’s jersey is, but when you listen carefully you can hear the sound coming from one end of the stadium to the other, rolling like a wave over the crowd onto the field. Do you know what they are chanting? Yep, that’s right, they are chanting, “Hup, kingdom of God. Hup!”

  • Bert Witvoet is a former educator and editor of various magazines, including the Christian Courier, who lives with his wife, Alice, in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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