The Psalmist in Psalm 24 begins with a simple, clear and comprehensive statement: “The earth is the Lord’s.” But in case there is any doubt, he adds, “and everything in it” (or in the more poetic translation, “and the fullness thereof”). Just to make sure you don’t misread an exemption for yourself, as a creature and not a “thing,” he further clarifies, “The world and all who live in it.”
There are many difficult, complex statements in the Bible. This is not one of them. In real estate terms, this is a clear title; the earth is the Lord’s. I can’t imagine how anyone could think the psalmist himself meant anything other than that the earth is the Lord’s, the whole enchilada of it. It is a remarkable statement in an era when the other nations all had national and tribal gods. Most would not have thought it necessary or possible for their gods to own the whole earth. There was a fair amount of “our gods can beat up your gods.” But few thought of divinity as monotheistic, comprehensive and universal. Israel’s theologians had a different idea. One can already see the path into the future leading to the God of Israel being the God of all the gentiles as well.
Thus, we arrive at today. If you accept that this Scripture is not a lie, it means the earth was, still is and ever shall be, the Lord’s. The context of Psalm 24 is as an entrance processional into the temple. Many religions see the temple as a micro model of the world. Israel is no exception. In Christianity also, especially in the Eastern Church, the church building is often called a temple, and represents itself as a micro world, populated with the saints of history and often other people and creatures as well, and with a ceiling painted as the sky with the stars.
It would appear most people, see a church as a sacred space and can say therefore, “The church is the Lord’s.” Even our not very pious government refrains from taxing it, based on a remembered ancient thought that it is the Lord’s, so it should keep its hands off. Those who serve in its precincts are also given a sacred status. They are “set apart” with a special “call,” expected to live more sacred lives, and, when there was a military draft, were exempt from it. A percentage of income, a “tithe,” is solicited from others to support these sacred spaces and people. Church day, Sunday, was also set apart, when the ordinary routines of life were to be suspended and ordinary people were scrubbed, dressed up and made to behave. For example, to this day, by law in New Mexico, the liquor section of the supermarket must be roped off on Sunday mornings, to prevent the populace from profaning the Sabbath, at least until church services have all been concluded.
Do you see what is wrong with this picture, beyond just the simple hypocrisy of it? If the temple is a micro model of the earth, it is different only in scale. The temple is the Lord’s precisely because the earth is the Lord’s and his temple. The fullness thereof is all sacred space and all who dwell therein are sacred creatures, humans included. Our culture divides the world into categories of sacred and secular, but the psalmist does not. All creation is God’s, created and owned by him, with clear title. “Secular” is an illusion of mankind, a squatting on property one does not own.
The division into sacred and secular goes back many centuries , with roots in pre-Christian pagan thought. It is accepted as a basic assumption, not simply by “secularists,” but by a large number of Christians as well. It is built solidly into the structures of thought, law, culture, politics, and indeed churchmanship that we live by. And it is virulent heresy.
The purpose of this modest blog will be to radically challenge this heresy, radical in the etymological sense of the word, to trace it to its roots and then yank it out. Nothing will be significantly better, and much may well be worse, unless and until we, especially we Christians who are supposed to know what God wants for us, can transform our worldview back to the Biblical understanding of whose property the earth is, including us who dwell therein.
The concept is so simple; the earth is the Lord’s. But the implications appear not to be very self-evident, given society’s assumptions. Just a handful of these, in no particular order, are the care of the environment, the ideologies and practice of the economy, Christian vocation, being spiritual but not religious, the Christian role in politics, the concept of stewardship, the meaning of “church,” immigration policy, treatment of animals, exploitation of resources, the theology of sacrament and offering and much else. These writings will be a mental exercise program to tear down a worldview and rebuild it based on the Lord’s claim to the property.
As one example, there are those who will run with this in the wrong direction. “It is all sacred, so let us go out to the woods to worship and meet God, not to some stuffy church.” And indeed, if you find yourself in the woods, you can and should worship, in all the ways it can be offered. And stuffy churches ought to be abolished and replaced with unstuffy ones. The problem is, of course, the lack of understanding of what a church consists of, and getting over the thought, often promoted by those seeing themselves as Christian advocates, that church means “a sacred space,” as opposed to secular space.
As we rebuild the world, please come along and join in. It could even be fun. Unlike worship in the woods, you won’t have to worry about ticks and mosquitoes, and the joy of seeing the world fall into place along with the meaning of your life might be worth the ride.