Blog - Doing Earthwork
God as LandlordTuesday, March 04, 2014
It may seem strange to think of God as landlord. Some proprietors have tarnished that term (just as some male parents have discolored father). But apart from its negative connotations, landlord best describes one aspect of how God has revealed himself in Scripture. As Dorothy Sayers points out in The Mind of the Maker, "All language about God must . . . necessarily be analogical.”
In describing their relationship to the real estate they would enter, God told the ancient Israelites: ". . . the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants” (Lev. 25:23). Of course, God’s role as landowner extended far beyond the borders of that Promised Land. As he made clear to Israel some three months after they left Egypt, "The whole earth is mine” (Ex. 19:5).
We know that God loves people so much he sent his Son to the cross to rescue us from sin. How often, though, do we recall that God loves his earth as well? After creating the land, with its plants and animals and people, God declared it all to be "very good.” Why, then, did he curse the ground? Not because he hated the earth, but because human sin had infected it.As Isaiah would later explain, "The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth” (Isaiah 24:5-6). Centuries later, in his vision, John heard the 24 elders express God’s jealous concern for his earthly real estate: "The time has come for . . . destroying those who destroy the earth” (Rev.11:18).
Seeing God as landlord clarifies both our relationship to him and to his earth. We are at the same time made in God’s image and made of earth. We are God’s tenants, and therefore accountable to him as our landlord. We are his property managers (assigned to rule the earth), and therefore responsible for maintaining his property as a place where life can flourish. We carry this out primarily through our work.
Dualistic thinking—such as the way we divide sacred/secular with that slant-line—can lead us to imagine God cares just about "spiritual” and not mere "physical” matters. But the truth of God as landlord reminds us he is still concerned about the earth he so painstakingly created.
Paul assures us that "the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). In "The Bible and the Environment,” F.F. Bruce says: "If words mean anything, these words of Paul denote not the annihilation of the present material universe and its replacement by a universe entirely new but the transformation of the present universe so that it will fulfill the purpose for which God created it.”
God owns the land. And he is Lord. Landlord.