How long have we Americans been singing “God Bless America?” I suppose since it was first published in 1938, even though it was written in 1918 by Irving Berlin during World War I. However, this song came to renewed prominence following the terrorism attacks on our nation Sept. 11, 2001. During that time and beyond we either heard it or sang it at our nation’s capitol, sporting events, schools, public gatherings, churches and other places.

As one writer recently suggested, “Today ‘God Bless America’ has become more than a song. Today, it has become more the tone of a plea. It’s as though each time we hear it or sing it, we are saying in our hearts, “Please God, bless America again.”

“God Bless America” is indeed our heartfelt prayer. So what about God’s blessing? Oh, I know that God is a God of grace and blesses whomever, whatever, and whenever he pleases. But in the Bible so many of God’s blessings seem to have conditions. At any rate, I want us to consider several of the promises and conditions of God’s blessing.

First, the nation is blessed when God is acknowledged and given priority! The psalmist said, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (psalm 33:12). The psalmist is talking about a nation that does not forget the importance of virtue-defined as moral excellence, goodness, righteousness.

Some years ago the late Paul Harvey told about an older man who was a great admirer of democracy and public education. He had a great dream to bring those two together in the creation of a new public college. This would be where students would practice self-government. There would be no rules or regulations. The good will and judgment of the students would run the college. After years of planning, the school was finally opened, and the older man was overjoyed. But as the months went by, the students proved time and time again that they were not the models of goodness and discipline and good judgment that the man had envisioned. They skipped classes. They drank to excess. They wasted hours in frivolous pursuits.

Then one night 14 students disguised themselves with masks, filled themselves with alcohol, went on a rampage that ended in a terrible brawl. One student hit a professor with a brick, and another used a cane on his victim.

In response, the college trustees met in a special meeting. The older man, now 82 years old and very frail, was asked to address the student body. In his remarks, he recalled the lofty principles on which the college had been founded. He said he had expected more — much more from the students. He even confessed that this was the most painful event of his life. Suddenly he stopped speaking. Tears welled up in his eyes. He was so overcome with grief that he sat down, unable to go on.

His audience was so touched that at the conclusion of the meeting the 14 offenders stepped forward to admit their guilt. But they could not undo the damage already done. A strict code of conduct and numerous regulations had already been instituted at the college.

The older man’s name was Thomas Jefferson. His mistake was that he took for granted the one essential ingredient necessary for any democracy’s success — the virtue and goodness of the people.

When virtue dies, nations die.

Second, the nation is blessed when God’s directives are kept! The writer of Deuteronomy says, “Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess” (Deuteronomy 5:33).

There are two promises in this verse that we Americans seem eager to seek after. Promise number one: that it may be well with us and promise number two: that we may live along time in the land of the free. But the condition upon which these two promises are based is not something we particularly relish. “Walk in obedience to all to all that the Lord your God has commanded you…” So often we want the promise fulfilled without meeting the condition.

Third, the nation is blessed when the way of healing is understood and acted upon! In ll Chronicles 7:14, God spells out several necessary conditions for the healing of his people’s land-humility, prayer and repentance. And repentance sounds like a clanging symbol as God adds, “Turn from your wicked ways and I will hear from heaven and will forgive your sin and heal your land.”

Certainly, we want God’s blessings on America, but again there are those conditions. Does America need healing? Only we Americans together can decide.

The Rev. Hal Brady is an ordained United Methodist minister and executive director of Hal Brady Ministries, based in Atlanta. You can watch him preach every week on the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters TV channel Thursdays at 8 p.m.

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