You Will Sing and You Will Like It
The proposed revised flag and heraldic code could change the rules for day-to-day life in the Philippines—but is it powerful enough to change hearts too?
The Philippine government is considering a bill that would, if enacted, require all Filipino citizens to stand, salute and sing the country’s national anthem “with fervor” or face a steep fine. According to one of the bill’s authors, “The national anthem emb odies and expresses the aspirations, dreams, ideals, longings, commitment and determination, nationalism and patriotism, sentiment and spirit of the people.”
Which is why people must be forced to sing it.
Maybe I’m missing something, but that feels like a contradiction: This song embodies the spirit of the people, but the people are not singing it, and so they must be threatened with repercussions until they do.
But the most interesting part of the bill, at least to me, is the bit about fervor. It’s not enough to stand, salute and sing—if this bill, known as “the revised flag and heraldic code,” passes, Filipinos will be legally required to be fervent about it. How the authorities would define the line between apathetic and fervent singing is anyone’s guess.
Being vs. acting
The human heart is a peculiar thing. We can enforce legislation that tells others to speak, act or behave in certain ways (for example, “If you do x, we’ll respond with y”), but there isn’t really any way to enforce rules that tell people how to feel. I can insist that you act happy around me, but I have no way of forcing you to be happy around me. What goes on in your heart is out of my reach, no matter how many resources I have at my disposal.
Take the 10 Commandments. Most of them are forbidden actions: Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t worship idols. Those are easy to enforce—if I see you steal something or catch you in a lie, there’s no denying what you’ve done. You’ve broken a clear rule, and there’s a penalty for it.
But what about honoring your parents? Remembering the Sabbath? Not coveting? Those things are a little less clear-cut. I can tell if you’re obeying your parents, but I can’t peer into your heart to see if you’re honoring them. I can look at how you react to the possessions of others, but I can’t say with certainty that you are or aren’t coveting something. That’s something that goes on in your heart.
The point is, if the Philippines enacts this bill, the government will still be powerless to enforce fervor in its citizens. The closest it can get is enforcing that its citizens act fervent; which is a very, very different thing.
Behind the law
If we’re obeying the physical command while disregarding the spiritual aspect behind it—then we’re missing the point.God cares a great deal about our hearts. He always has. When Jesus Christ walked the earth, He explained that the 10 Commandments were based on a set of deeper, broader spiritual principles. It was never just about not killing—it was about not even hating in your heart (Matthew 5:21-22). It was never about just not sleeping around—it was about not even lusting after someone who isn’t your spouse (verses 27-28).
We can obey the physical command not to murder and still hate someone in our hearts. We can obey the physical command not to commit adultery and still lust after someone in our hearts. We can obey the physical command not to steal something and still desperately want to take it in our hearts. And if that’s the case—if we’re obeying the physical command while disregarding the spiritual aspect behind it—then we’re missing the point.
In the time of Isaiah the prophet, God’s people had developed a penchant for following some of God’s rules while making a mockery of the purpose behind them. They were bringing sacrifices to God … while also committing and flaunting terrible sins.
Through Isaiah, God remarked, “He who kills a bull is as if he slays a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, as if he breaks a dog’s neck; he who offers a grain offering, as if he offers swine’s blood; he who burns incense, as if he blesses an idol.” Then He added, “They have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations” (Isaiah 66:3).
Sacrifices were part of God’s law, but all the sacrifices in the world couldn’t cover up the wickedness deep in the heart of God’s people—and God saw it. He saw their pride, vanity and disregard for His perfect way of life and eventually punished them for these, as well as their blatant sins (verse 4).
“On this one will I look”
The proposed bill in the Philippines is an object lesson in the limitation of law. No law can force us to feel or think anything. Fervor is not a thing you can mandate or penalize into existence. And yet, at least when it comes to God’s laws, how we feel and think matters. In fact, it’s the main thing He’s looking for: “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2).
God doesn’t force us to obey Him from the heart. He gives us His laws and lets us choose whether or not to obey. But just as important as external obedience is what’s going on in our hearts when we do. God is interested in those with a poor and contrite spirit, who value and treasure His Word as the precious gift that it is. In fact, to those who are willing to repent, He offers access to His Spirit, which makes obedience from the heart possible.
Failing to have the right spirit isn’t going to earn us a thousand-dollar fine, but we will miss out on something even bigger: a relationship with the God who loves us and created us with a purpose.