19th January 2012 | Dave Bookless | 12 comments

Whose world is it anyway?

When I was a child growing up in India, there was a song we often sang at school. The first verse went:

This land is your land, this land is my land,
From the Himalayas down to Cape Comorin,
From Bombay city to old Calcutta,
This land was made for you and me.

Satellite image of India, NASA Blue Marble

Even though my parents were British, I was Indian-born and sang from the heart. I felt a deep connection to India. It was ‘my land’. Later I discovered the song was adapted from a Woody Guthrie folk classic, originally about the USA (“This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York Island; from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters …”), but re-written for many different places around the world.

Connection to place is important and good. In Acts 17, Paul tells the Athenians that God has marked out the time and boundaries of when and where people live, “so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him” (vs. 27). We are placed people, finding God in the particular national and ecological contexts he puts us in.

Yet Woody Guthrie’s song goes too far: ‘this land was made for you and me’. There’s a big difference between belonging to a place, and the place belonging to us. Sadly Christians have often confused the two. I was taught in church as a child that God has given us this world to enjoy as we wish. It’s a dangerous half-truth. It’s half true because God does want us to enjoy the world, to rejoice in its beauty and diversity. Yet it’s dangerous because it suggests we have ownership rights over the planet and its ‘resources’.

It’s a shock to realise how radical the bible is about ownership. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” states Psalm 24:1. Not only the planet itself, but all it contains: mountains, oceans, forests, oil and coal deposits, plants and animals … yes the humans too … belong to God (Psalm 50). This world wasn’t made for us. It was made – according to Colossians 1:16 – ‘by and for Christ’. Even the Israelites living in the Promised Land are bluntly told by God: “The land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers” (Leviticus 25:23). As Crocodile Dundee, from the film of the same name, said: “For people to argue about who owns the land they live in is a bit like two fleas arguing about who owns the dog they’re on!”

So, how are we to see the world? Former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was spot on in a 1988 speech: “No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy – with a full repairing lease.”

Biblically, we are to see the earth and all it contains as God’s gift on loan, like a beautiful borrowed and shared home. Once we see the earth as gift-on-loan, that transforms our relationship with possessions, people and other species … and through that, with God. We are freed to recognise our dependence and interdependence, and to share freely and give generously, saying to God with King David: “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand” (1 Chronicles 29:14).

Categories: Questions
About Dave Bookless

Dave has worked with A Rocha since 1997, first as an International Trustee, then from 2001 with A Rocha UK as co-founder (with his wife Anne), National Director, and then Director for Theology, Churches & Sustainable Communities. He joined the A Rocha International team in September 2011. His role as Advisor for Theology and Churches includes providing advice and resources for ARI’s Trustees, Team and national A Rocha organisations, and coordinating liaison with international theological and mission networks and organisations. He is also studying for a part-time PhD at Cambridge University on biblical theology and biodiversity conservation.

View all posts by Dave Bookless

12 responses to “Whose world is it anyway?”

  1. Sarah Young says:

    Great stuff Dave, as always! Looking forward to the rest …

  2. Maru Barrientos says:

    Yesterday night I was delight with this passage ” To the Lord you God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.”Dt.10:14 and today morning your stuff feed us more…so grateful for that.

  3. I discovered your new blog yesterday – great start – I will be following. I linked to this post in my ‘Saturday Six’ roundup today.

  4. Jonathan Hawkins says:

    I will look forward to where this goes. Thanks to “Seeker” aka Nancy Wallace for the pointer.

  5. Colin B says:

    Great to see A Rocha International joining the blogosphere! I’ll make sure we have a link and look forward to seeing more!

  6. Greg Stone says:

    Thanks Dave. Well written. I’m looking forward to reading more.

  7. Nick says:

    Enjoying the new blog ….. here’s a link to one of our local projects:
    http://plot107.wordpress.com/

  8. steven muir says:

    One question I’d really like more comment on is why Jesus did not appear to make any statement whatsoever about the need to care for creation. theres lots in old testament but Jesus appears to priortise building church communities which is what the church copies. how do we convince the church that it is a priority as a follower of Jesus when Jesus doesn’t appear to value it?

    • Dave Bookless says:

      That’s a great question: “Why didn’t Jesus say anything about creation care?” There’s plenty to say about it and I’ll make sure it’s tackled in a future post, so keep reading! By the way … Jesus actually said very litte about ‘church’ either … he seemed more interested in God’s Kingdom!

    • Júlio Reis says:

      Besides what Jesus said or not, myself as I get to know the character of God (what he likes and dislikes), I’ve seen that taking care of the Earth is “in character” with the Creator, and I want to act that way too. Now for what Jesus actually said, you may want to get yourself a copy of “Jesus and the Earth”, by James Jones. Can’t say I understood it all, but it made for a very interesting read.

  9. Maru says:

    is an great insight! because sadly as humans beings we confuse the word “temple”with “church” and we give the same meaning insteand is not the same because is a cultural way of talk. We forgot many times that we as people; are the church…and our challenges as son and daughter´s of God is that we all can get God´s kingdom vision into our personal lifes and permit this grown forward to transform the enviroment including everybody and everything is in it. Merciful God helps to keep our focus in your God´s kingdom and share it!

  10. Judith says:

    I have just read this article. It seems that we have a bit of a fear/time lapse in the Western Christian Church about recognising that we have responsibility to care for creation but we do not own it. The culture shift needs to accelerate before the church looks like the last community on earth to see sense and put compassion and the opening intercessions of the Lord’s prayer into action.”Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven”. Dave, I was put on the spot today, being asked by Hannah in our Church, St Michael’s Aberystwyth, “If I could be someone famous for a day, who would I be?” I said “Dave Bookless!” And I said this because of what I know of your work and A Rocha and what I feel God has put on my heart for years! Another misconception that we may need to spotlight and correct is the idea that the world will be chucked away and done for when Jesus comes back, when he will actually renew this one and fulfill his Kingdom here. How embarrassing will it be if the mess he has to deal with is mainly due to his own family’s disregard for creation, selfishness and greed! There are some very inspiring articles in the introduction to the NRSV The Green Bible (Collins)

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