We had such an amazing trip… such an amazing part of the world. It’s God’s country.
I don’t even remember what part of the world the person who recently told me this was talking about. The Okanagan Valley, maybe? Vancouver Island? Hawaii? It was somewhere lush and green and fertile, no doubt, somewhere where the temperatures are usually pleasant, where the breezes are welcome, where there are hills and valleys and mountains, somewhere where there is plenty of natural beauty to spare, where it doesn’t have to be forcibly wrenched out of the plain, the mundane, the not-so-obvious. It was somewhere without dust and wind and mile upon mile of flat, featureless land. It was somewhere with more green than brown, more warm than cold. It was somewhere else.
For some reason, I got stuck on that one phrase. It’s God’s country. I understand that it’s one of those hyperbolic statements that just rolls off the tongue, that usually it means nothing more than, “it’s really, really pretty and I really, really like it there.” I get that it’s trying to articulate an intuitive connection between beauty and the divine. I get that sticking “God” before “country” is meant to express something good. But what an interesting way to put it.
I thought of the ancient Israelites, staggering out of Egypt, then stumbling around in the searing heat and barren, dusty wilderness, with the promise of land before them. A land flowing with milk and honey. A land of opportunity, of prosperity, peace, and stability. A land that represented the fulfillment of a promise made by their God. The promised land.
I thought of our current geopolitical climate. Of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, of chemical weapons in Syria, of political turmoil in Egypt, of conflict on the Korean peninsula, of multinational mining companies forcing farmers of their land in Colombia and other parts of South/Central America, of First Nations people being brutalized and pushed off the land for centuries here in North America…
“God’s country” and “my country” (or “the country I want“) have so often looked so strangely (and conveniently) similar.
I’ve been reading through the book of Joshua for a sermon this Sunday. I don’t like the book of Joshua very much. I remember when I first read it—I remember feeling sorry for all those poor Amorite, Perizzite, Girgashite, Jebusite, and Hivite children that the Israelites were supposed to make sure they exterminated comprehensively enough. Why did God hate all these -ites? I thought Jesus was supposed to love all the children of the world, red, yellow, black, and white. I mean, the song didn’t say anything about the –ites, but presumably they were red, yellow, black, or white, right? How was I supposed to make sense of this strange God who commands slaughter so that his people can have this land all to themselves?
No, I don’t like the book of Joshua at all. I don’t like this story of one people and one land and all the violence that goes along with it. I wish I didn’t have to fight with books like this. I wish I didn’t have to figure out how to make “slaughter them completely” fit together with “love your enemies.” And I wish God had never promised anyone any land. We human beings are already so accomplished at seizing land for ourselves. We don’t need “God’s” to precede “country.” That just seems to make it worse.
If God has a country, it surely must be this whole earth. The flat parts and the hilly parts. The lush, rain-drenched green parts and the parched, wind-swept brown parts. The pretty parts and the ugly parts. The parts that make (some) people rich and the parts with nothing marketable. The parts where we go on vacation and the parts where we live out most of our days. The parts where the beauty overwhelms us and the parts where it is more shy and reticent, where it stubbornly hides and refuses to give itself away. The parts soaked in history, blood, and religion and the parts just getting used to the idea.
It’s all God’s country. And we should stop claiming it for ourselves.
The image above was captured by my twelve-year-old son last weekend as the sun went down on a lovely evening spent on the farm I grew up on. God’s country.