Dan Popp
Coke's prayer
By Dan Popp
February 6, 2014

If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me. – (1 Corinthians 14:11, NAS95)

There seems to be some controversy – no doubt as intended – around Coca Cola's Super Bowl commercial in which "America the Beautiful" is sung in several languages. But I wonder why there's no controversy over the fact that Coke treated the world to a Christian prayer in prime time? Perhaps because many don't understand the language of the original hymn. The lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates. Each stanza begins with a reflection on an aspect of the beauty of America, followed by a petition for God to complete the work He has begun.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

First we recognize the physical beauty of the land itself.

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,

This is not a statement of something done in the past – as in Ray Charles' classic recording of this anthem when he ad libs, "God done shed His grace on thee." As with all the following verses, this is poetic shorthand for, "May God shed..."

And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Not the godless "brotherhood" of the French revolution, aptly caricatured as, "Be my brother, or I'll kill you." Brotherhood in the Christian sense of having the same Father.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,

Stanza 2 reflects on the beauty of the country's birth, as a place where the gospel can be spread, and religious freedom can flourish. Why feet? "How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him that brings good news...." (See Isaiah 52:7)

Whose stern impassion'd stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!

Coke is here celebrating the religious zeal and sobriety of the Puritans, and their advancement of liberty on this continent.

America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul...

Not only are corporations persons, but these persons, at least poetically, have souls.

...in self-control,

That's surely a hallmark of the Plymouth Brethren, and those who came immediately after them.

Thy liberty in law!

This is a distinctively Judeo-Christian concept; that real freedom is not license, but the ability to do what is right without interference. Surely the executives at Coca Cola, and their ad agency, meant this as a stinging rebuke of the lawlessness of those who would grant blanket "amnesty" to wrongdoers, as well as a warning to those who would put their own laws above God's.

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,

Writing in 1895, Bates surely looks back at both the Civil War and the Revolutionary War as conflicts that freed human beings.

Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!

"...Your lovingkindness [mercy] is better than life...." (See Psalm 63:3) We honor those men who valued the will of God over their own safety, which put them in the position to be blessed of God.

America! America! May God thy gold refine

In Scripture, the refining of gold is a consistent metaphor for God allowing adversity in order to cleanse us. Here, the adversity is war.

Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine!

If a corporate person has a soul, Coke is praying that that soul will be saved and rewarded.

O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years

That is, into eternity.

Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!

"...for [Abraham] was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:10) "...and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4)

As John Winthrop wrote in 1630 while on his voyage to the New World, "For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us." America was to be an experiment of Christian principles lived out in practice. Miss Bates and the makers of Coca Cola pray for the success of that experiment.

More than a crass dream of temporal prosperity or false equality, the beautiful dream of the patriot, of the pilgrim, of the true American, is that our country will be a place that leads people to God via the one true road, which is Jesus Christ.

And, believing that, we can sing our prayer in unison:

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

The progression through the song from body to soul to spirit is unmistakable. Coke is praying for the justification, then sanctification, then glorification of of our nation. That the country would be saved. That it would fulfill its original purpose of building a thoroughfare not just to the polling booth, but to heaven. The soft drink manufacturers probably didn't know that, since this is not their native language – they're just parroting attractive sounds without understanding. But those who understand may bow our heads and say, Amen.

© Dan Popp


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