Politics and Religion
God created the heavens and the earth. They belong to God. God created us and placed us in a beautiful garden full of whatever we needed. We screwed it up, got kicked out and forced to toil for the things we need. Lucky for us God let us keep the dirt.
That reminds me of an old joke. Humanity reaches the pinnacle of science and decides we no longer need God. Not only do we not need God but also we feel through our awesome science and technology we rival God. So our scientists challenge God to a create life contest. God being the gracious Father he is says ok. The human scientist reaches down to grab a handful of dust from the ground from which he will create life and the Lord says ah-ah-ah get your own dirt.
Bad joke but I love it and it illustrates a point. Without the soil we got nothing. Without the land from which we draw upon for our sustenance everything dies. We need to understand that without the proper, dare I say it, Godly usage of his land we simply cannot survive. Science has not found a suitable replacement for dirt. We find lots of ways to screw it up. We barely understand what we need to keep our soil healthy. We add all kinds of chemicals to it to try and make up for the fact that we don’t follow the rules God laid down for us in dealing with the land. And all the while as we keep pumping chemicals all over the land we end up poisoning our water, poisoning the ecosystem, and lowering the nutrition of the food we grow. We grow a bunch of it but it takes more and more for us to make up what we have lost as far as nutritional value of our food goes. Go look at the land that is farmed in an organic manner, no chemicals just good healthy soil and then look at it compared to soil farmed using chemicals. It is amazing the difference. The chemically treated soil looks gray and dead. The organic soil looks deep dark and filled with richness that the chemical soil just cant match. So lets look at some of the specifics the good Lord has given us on how we should treat the land shall we.
In chapter two of Genesis God plants a garden and commands Adam to cultivate and keep it. God plants the garden and just wants Adam to be there in this awesome garden with all the food he wants to eat growing all around him. God just gives him that one rule; do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die. So what did we do, yep ate from the tree. Rather than the death sentence the Lord just kicked us out of the garden and made life in general tougher for us. Primarily the main thing I want to focus on here is the fact that from this point on we had to work the land, rather than just tending to the garden. It went from a pretty easy gig to pretty hard work. All because we couldn’t follow a simple rule, don’t eat from that one tree.
It never ceases to amaze me how when we get directions directly from God on what we need to do we screw it up. Then expect that we can put together our own ideas and goals on how to manage things and call them our policies. Of course we have always kept that tendency to screw up our own ideas and goals every bit as much as we have God’s rules.
Throughout the rest of this blog let’s just focus on how we are supposed to deal with the land. In subsequent posts we will discuss how scripture has given us ways to deal with our diet, with the way we are to deal with each other, our governance, our economy, and some about our future.
As we go through these issues we will draw from many different books of the Bible, as well as various other books and journals dealing with the policies we have chosen to follow. One of the books we will spend a fair amount of time in is Leviticus. The book of Leviticus is a guide for the priestly class in ancient Hebrew society. The directions for the Levites and the rules governing the life of worship leaders and priests came directly from God. For this discussion we will start with chapter 25 verses 23-24 from Leviticus. “The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.”
Pretty cut and dried message here, God says, “The land is mine” all land everywhere he explains very clearly we are the tenants and we are required to “provide for the redemption of the land”.
So what does “provide for the redemption of the land” mean? We often talk of Redemption of ones soul; the idea is that through God’s Grace we can be redeemed through the forgiveness of our sins. So how does that apply to land? In this case the answer is pretty easy. We are to take care of the land because we are only taking care of it until God reclaims it and we are no longer given the charge and responsibilities of tenants. Our job is too make sure the land is cared for in the best way possible, not just for ourselves or our generation but into perpetuity. God is eternal humanity is not. We struggle with this idea often. We generally look at the land as a possession something that by rights belongs to whoever holds the title. This is contrary to scripture and yet we consider the rights of public property to be one of the corner stones behind the idea of American Democratic Rights.
We also look at the land in a very short-term vision. At best we may look at land that we own as our property that we can do what we want to with as long as we own it. At best we may look at leaving something behind for our children or grand children, when in fact since the land belongs to God and is held by us for a very short time we should look at the larger picture of caring for the land in a way that guarantees that it will be fertile and useful for all the generations of humanity that come after us.
We look at the short-term economics. How much can I get out of my land, we make decisions based upon market forces rather than God’s plan. We look at how much money we will get and balance it between farming or development, which in and of itself is not bad, if we where basing that decision on how best that land could serve God’s purpose rather than our profit margin and our own short term wants and desires.
Scripture follows this idea up many times throughout history. In the Book of Ezekiel Chapter 34:17-18 God gives this message to the Prophet Ezekiel to be given to the Hebrew people “As for you, my flock… Is it not enough for you to feed on good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?” This was a metaphor for the Jewish people about much more than just the herding of sheep. However, it is clear that God worded this message in a way that should make sense to the people of the time. Especially the leaders who are often called shepherds throughout scripture, I also find it very powerful that God used the proper management of the land and its positive impact on the sheep as a means to communicate how his people are to act. God tells us right here that the short sighted careless way we tend to take care of our needs and wants is not going to be successful. Regardless of if we are talking about sheep or people. This passage will be discussed more later when we talk about governance but for now I hope you see the point of how this applies to land use issues.
In Isaiah 24:4-6.” The earth dries up and withers, the world languished and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth lies under its inhabitants for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt.” Not what I consider the way we want things to be. Over and over we see these things happen. We face desertification in many regions of the world where poor land management practices eat away at the usefulness of the soil. Real simply if we followed God’s rules we would not face these problems. Had we followed God’s rules we would not have had to deal with the era of the dust bowl here in America. Simple rules really we just choose to ignore them and in all fairness we always have.
In the book of Exodus in chapter 23verses 10-13 tell us “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield. But the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat: and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyards and olive orchards. Six days you will do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your home born slave and the resident alien may be refreshed. Be attentive to all that I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods: do not let them be heard on your lips.”
So many cool things going on in this verse, first God tells us to work the land for six years and then leave it alone in the seventh year. We are to take no profit from it that seventh year. Now you must remember in ancient agricultural practices major agribusinesses have not screwed with plants so much that they no longer reproduce on their own. In those days even if you did not work the field during that seventh year it was still going to produce. We are just told to let it be for the poor to collect what they need and leave the rest for the wild animals. Then the following year we start the cycle over again.
Today we look at this as a kind of crop rotation scheme, which is pretty well accepted as a beneficial practice. The difference between what we do and what God told us to do is that here God is not talking about one field being left fallow he is talking about the entire land. All of it. Our ideas of crop rotation is that we will work one field for a year or two and then leave it alone while we work on another field, thus the entire land is not left fallow at the same time. The poor are not invited to partake in the bounty of the fallow land today because most of the seed we use has been modified to produce once and not replenish itself by going to seed so whatever may be left over after the sixth year will bear nothing for the poor or the wild animals in the seventh. Interesting to me how God gives us a plan that all creation can benefit from and we change it so that it cannot.
In Leviticus chapter 25 God reiterates the idea of the Sabbath year to Moses and Hebrew people. “The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a Sabbath for the Lord. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the after growth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. You may eat what the land yields during its Sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound laborers’ who live with you; for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food. “
Ok here we go God has given these instructions to us more than once. He makes it clear this is what we should do in a way that provides for people and animals domestic and wild. Nature has an amazing bounty if we live within the means and systems the Lord has put in place. Hey what an idea living with in the means God gives us. I wonder if any policy makers, anywhere has ever taken this idea into account. Will there be poor, yes, will they be taken care of; yes all we need to do is follow the word of God. The entire word of God, don’t just pick and choose from the parts that you want too. We must take into account the teachings of Christ and take the teachings of the Old Testament to put them into practice, as Christ would have us do. When we look at the Old Testament without the lens of Christ we do not get the whole picture.