If you’re like me you haven’t thought too much about the national anthem of the United States of America. It’s moving and majestic and a little bit hard to sing those high notes, but once it’s been sung we move on quickly to our football game/parade/fireworks show/insert your favorite activity here. Which is kind of a shame, because this is a) a beautiful piece of poetry and b) a solid lesson on fighting the good fight.
The first verse–we rarely hear more than that–contains a long, convoluted sentence that boils down to the question, “Is the flag still flying this morning?” It sounds foolish; why does that even matter? But if you look at the rest of that verse and the next, you realize those “rockets” and “bombs bursting in air” are not fireworks but actual weapons. The song places us in the midst of a war, specifically at dawn the morning after a “perilous fight.”
I’ve never fought in a war (thank goodness) but I have faced some perilous fights. Sometimes I’ve asked myself afterward, “Am I still okay? Is my flag still flying?”
One of the scriptures referenced in the hymnbook for “The Star-Spangled Banner” talks about Captain Moroni and his title of liberty:
And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole. (Alma 46:23)
I think (if we’re willing to set patriotism aside for a moment) the “star-spangled banner” could stand for anyone’s personal flag, or title of liberty if you prefer. It represents who they are and what they value, their commitments and causes. Even the sight of one’s country’s flag can stir up thoughts of God, freedom, a desire for peace, and love of family.
But for Moroni, it was not sufficient to simply raise a flag. The next verse reads:
And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land. (Alma 46:13)
He prepared himself to defend the things he held dear and “prayed mightily” for God to bless the people with freedom and righteousness. In chapter 48, he has the people fortify their cities in order to protect their homes, families, and liberties. But he does not just fortify cities; “Moroni…had been preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God” (Alma 48:7).
He taught the people that they needed to trust the Lord and keep His commandments in order to prosper. They needed to have faith, humility, gratitude, and a willingness to work. When their enemies tried to take away their freedom to worship and live in peace, they needed to be prepared to flee or fight, whichever was more prudent.
It was the actions of the people that would preserve their lives and liberty, not sufficient strongholds and certainly not a fancy flag.
Oh, thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”
There are people who stand for righteousness in the midst of chaos and war all over the world–whether a literally bloody battle or a less obvious attack on values and principles. They pray for heaven to rescue them and praise their Creator for all He has done.
Their motto is, “We will trust in God.”
It takes courage to choose to fight against the oppressors. To speak out where the truth is unwelcome. To defend those who need our strength. To teach others that there is a better way. To remember that we are children of God in a world that tells us we are worthless. To risk our lives to do what is right.
It takes courage to keep faith and endure to the end.
But no matter what the world throws at us, in the morning after each battle against Satan’s hosts, our personal flag of liberty, truth, and righteousness will still fly in the morning.
Wherever we stand for right can be the land of the free because we are willing to be brave.