Our Property, God's Property
by Fletcher Harper
The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it…
To reconcile divine ownership with the realities of modern life, it's important to explore the interaction between God's ultimate ownership of the earth and our use and control of the same. It's not enough simply to say, "God owns it" and to expect that to solve anything. Let's dig deeper.
Across the span of time, people have developed family, cultural, and social institutions, government structures, laws, and regulations through which they control and manage natural resources. Tribal peoples often relied on family or clan-based systems. In the middle ages, kings, rulers, and many religious groups controlled large natural resource holdings. In the former Communist bloc, governments were the major owners of "natural capital." Today, corporations control much of the Earth's productive capacity, alongside governments and individual landowners. Throughout our history, human beings have developed these different systems of ownership, use, and control over nature. In the face of this, what does it mean to assert God's ultimate ownership of the earth?
God's ultimate ownership, in the face of our proximate ownership and control, matters deeply as a statement of our responsibility, our accountability, on both individual and systemic levels. Certainly God understands that as human societies evolve, our systems for the use of nature will evolve correspondingly. The issue, regardless of the system, is the underlying question of our stewardship. Is our systemic use of water and the atmosphere, our treatment of the land and of other living beings, consistent with what God expects? Do our systems of ownership and control of natural resources reflect the divine imperative that we respect and love creation and affirm its goodness by ensuring that it supports abundant life? It's not only our individual behavior that matters in relation to the environment. The systems that we develop matter, too. If we believe that God is the Creator and owner of the earth, then that means we're accountable to God, individually and collectively, for the way in which we treat the earth.
When it comes to our treatment of the environment, we matter and our systems matter. There's no way around it.
This is excerpted from Green Faith: Mobilizing God's People to Save the Earth by Fletcher Harper and appears here by permission of Abingdon Press. Harper is an Episcopal priest and executive director of GreenFaith, an interfaith environmental coalition. An award-winning spiritual writer and nationally-recognized preacher on the environment, he has developed a range of innovative programs to make GreenFaith a leader in the fast-growing religious-environmental movement.