I have a dream.
I have a dream of a world where every nation affirms this truth to be self-evident, that all nations are created equal. It is a dream of a world of rich diversity, of many cultures and languages, shaped by different climates and histories, woven together to make a rich tapestry of nationhoods settled side by side. I have a dream of a world where nations live together in humility and respect, seeking to learn from one another, travelling and trading together, marrying and giving in marriage so that the cords of tribe and blood thread through national boundaries and are woven deep into the fabric of each other’s national story. I have a dream of a world of nations where each country rules itself, respecting the right of other nations to decide differently, to travel a different road, organise a different way, design different homes, create a different culture and write their own story, yet all the time knowing that our destiny is tied up with the destiny of each and every nation of the human race. I have a dream of a world where nations do not find the need to drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred, but learn to listen, to understand, to share the cup of human sympathy with people from all nations as we sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream of a world where all nations fill the earth as God intended, and seek to steward its beauty and riches together for all, in a world where all nations seek to live together for the glory of God.
I have a dream.
I also have two nightmares. The first nightmare is nationalism, the idolatry of one’s own nation to the exclusion of all others. It is the nightmare that hates, suspects, blames, excludes, and ridicules other nations as the source of all our problems. It promises that if we cut ourselves off from these evil, conspiring nations that surround us, we have no fault in ourselves and we can create a haven from the world on the shores of our exceptionalism. It is the nightmare that believes the secular lie that the human race should be divided by the anthropologist’s categories of race, that ours is to be classed as superior, and that such perverted science somehow gives us the right to exclude, oppress and exploit others, or worse. It is the nightmare that provokes others to be our enemies, to distrust and hate us by the way we exploit or threaten them. It is the nightmare that replaces contentment with selfish ambition, that makes a nation want to expand beyond its borders and control others, to exhume ancient grievances and use them to our own ends, to spread violence and export death. It is the nightmare that destroys, and leaves a generation of the young laid side by side in cemeteries of futility while streets and homes lie in ruins.
The second nightmare is globalism, the idea that the powerful can conform this world of nations to their will. It is the nightmare that says ‘Our way is best. We are the civilised, the rich, the wise and the mighty. You must become one of us. This is the way the world is now. It is our world.’ So often this nightmare takes root from good intentions, to sever the root of nationalism and end the curse of war. It begins with high ideals, the powerful urge to improve the lot of others, the desire to spread civilisation, education and proper drains to all, to bring stability across national boundaries, to spread the rule of law. It begins with a dream of freedom, but it becomes a system of power in which the proud nations dominate and oppress the humble. Quiet and unassuming cultures are suppressed, local knowledge and the wisdom of the centuries is ignored, the rich inheritance of many heart languages conformed to a few imperial tongues that most never fully understand or count as their own. The dream becomes a nightmare when a treaty between nations signed as equals becomes an empire that must control, an orthodoxy that must not be challenged, and a government beyond scrutiny that operates without consent. I have a nightmare of empires that rise with high intentions, but which succumb to the hubris of Babel, and like Babylon the Great they fall with a great crash. And when they fall, because they gathered wealth together in a few places, they leave many nations impoverished, peoples scattered, lives destroyed, justice frustrated and cities in ruins.
Must these two nightmares always shape our lives? All the while there is evil desire in the human heart, they will. The present convulsions of several nations and empires only serve to bear out what I am saying. The divide between populists on the one hand and liberal/imperial elites on the other shows that both sides have pursued their own nightmare, to try and defeat the other. It is time to reject both and to listen to the prophet of old who called us to ‘do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8). It is at this point that many Christians shrug their shoulders at the evil of the world and say ‘It will only happen in the New Creation.’ Yes, it will. My dream will be perfectly fulfilled in the New Creation, when evil will be banished forever, and these words will at last be true ‘He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them as their God’ (Rev 21:3) To quote Martin Luther-King correctly, as he quoted Isaiah, ‘I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low.’
But is that just for the New Creation? The Lord Jesus taught us to pray ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matt. 6:10). We are to build a world where evil, hatred, oppression and despair are met by the redemption that is found in Christ alone. We will not find the answer in the idolatry of nationalism, or in the idolatries of empire. We will begin to find it only when we pursue the dream of nations living in humility under God, reconciled in Christ as friends.