God Bless America: The Meaning Behind Irving Berlin's Famous Patriotic Song
A PRAYER FOR OUR NATION
The song God Bless America music was penned by Irving Berlin, a composer of thousands of songs. Written against the backdrop of World War I and a national epidemic that was sweeping through homes and hospitals, Berlin longed to pen a simple song that might capture the heart cry of the American people.
For whatever reason, Berlin felt that the song wasn’t quite right, so he tossed the song into a trunk and forgot about it. Twenty years later, singer Kate Smith needed a song to commemorate the valiant courage of the soldiers of WWI. Knowing that Hitler was engaging in the extermination of many of his fellow Jewish countrymen at the time, he penned these words to be read as an introduction to the song.
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in solemn prayer.
Even though, most Americans can sing this song without fail, few stop to realize exactly what they are singing. Let’s take a moment to take a closer look at this great song, this solemn prayer.
GOD BLESS AMERICA IS A PRAYER OF PATRIOTISM
The words, God Bless America, are an acknowledgment of the source from who all blessings flow. While Berlin was not particularly religious, he acknowledges that his country had much to be thankful for. America was on the cusp of the Roaring Twenties, a time of prosperity and production.
Companies were offering goods at cheaper prices, allowing more Americans than ever to rise out of poverty. Many homes were becoming electrified, as it did the economy began to surge, changing the fortunes and livelihoods of the American population. Despite the pandemic of Spanish flu and the aftermath of WWI, the country was enjoying a period of blessing unlike anything seen before.
Berlin had certainly been blessed in the short time (25 years) that he had lived in the United States. His next words echo that very sentiment. Land that I Love, is a telling reminder of the importance of national pride.
Having lived in the United States for a short time (25 years), Berlin and his family were one of hundreds of thousands of Jewish families who had made their way to America, most of whom were escaping discrimination, poverty, and extermination campaigns. It seemed as if every day, more and more people were flocking to America in search of better lives.
GOD BLESS AMERICA IS A PLEA FOR DIVINE PROTECTION
The words, Stand Beside Her, echo that the idea of protection. The composer is asking God’s divine help in watching over the nation. He recognized the tremendous changes that were happening all around him and knew that the greed and avarice of the human heart could easily rule the day.
He pleads for God to intervene. Hitler’s forces were rattling their sabers and building up their arms, having already swept across Poland, most Americans feared the Third Reich’s attempt at world dominance. Most knew that it was only a matter time before Europe would fall.
GOD BLESS AMERICA IS A PLEA FOR DIVINE GUIDANCE
Berlin writes: And guide her through the night with a light from above, speaks to God’s plan for the nation. Berlin is aware of how easily a nation can turn toward evil and wickedness.
He prays for a way through the night, (the horrors of war and an epidemic consuming life all around him – the Spanish Flu would end up claiming 675,000 lives in the US and over 50 million worldwide).
And his desire is that the light of God illuminate the path ahead. The Bible tells us the same when the Psalmist writes, that God’s Word is ”a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.” (Psalm 119:105).
GOD BLESS AMERICA IS A PLEA FOR DIVINE INCLUSION
Berlin’s next words, From the mountains to the prairies. To the oceans white with foam, speaks to desire for the entire nation to be protected and provided for. And that is really what our nation has always been about.
As the Statue of Liberty declared to immigrants travelling here, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” America has always strived to be the kind of nation that welcomed immigrants to its shores. Chances are that your ancestors did that very thing generations ago. In America, there is room for everyone.
GOD BLESS AMERICA IS A PLEA FOR A PLACE TO BELONG
Finally, Berlin reminds us of the importance of having a place to call our own with the words, My home sweet home. This is what every immigrant who has migrated to our shores dreams of – a place to call home.
A place that is sweet and free of violence and strife. A place where they have a chance to raise their families with freedom, without any government telling them where to go or what to think.
Think about your home. Think of the freedoms that we enjoy as a people. We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is our place. A home sweet home for you and your family to gather; to share moments, to build memories, to share joys and laughter, basically to live for the pursuit of happiness.
These are the things Berlin reminds us of. These are the things of home. These are the things to be treasured.
God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with the light from above
From the mountains to the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America, my home sweet home
May this be our solemn prayer as we sing.
James McMechan is a retired freelance writer with over 40 years of experience in ministry and management. His book The Inspired Salesperson, is a practical book of devotions told in a “down to earth” style. Aimed at helping people in sales and other professions draw closer to God, the desire is that each reader might deepen their walk with the Lord as they work each day. James makes his home in Mississippi with his wife, special needs son, and a dog named Quinn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org