Colonialism can take many forms. It’s mainly our desire to dominate the world and the things in the world. It arises out of a competitive view of our relationships. “If we don’t colonise, someone else will, and then they will subjugate us.” So, for “God, king and country,” we should win the colonial fight.
This has always been the way, since the fall of man in the Garden. You get various forms of colonialism, some more benign than others, depending upon the rulers, or upon the lack of external threats, or the influences for good within the reigning empire.
Mostly we have become resigned to this form of reality. This is the way the world is, we claim, and any attempt to significantly change this is idealistic, leftist, or worse, maybe even antichrist, “making peace with the enemy.” This is how Israel thought of peace when Jesus came. It’s a hot area to discuss, because it raises many fears of our being dispossessed. “Yes, we live in an unfair world, but we are fairer than others.”
But isn’t this mixing the oranges and apples? Aren’t we mixing our identity as God’s new community with our identity as members of one nation or another? These two aren’t meant to be mixed. As Paul said, “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek.” If God meant us to be a different kind of people, bringing the solution to our human problem, then we can only do this with our cross, not by affiliating with a colonial power.
We can go back to the Creation event to get a picture of what God intended for the world. First, he gave humanity stewardship over the environment. We were to care for the natural world. Second, he gave it to us together, as one people. He made humanity as a whole “in his image.” Our image bearing is for two purposes. One is to care for the environment and the other is to do so in reconciling, community relationships, locally and globally. This may not be the image our nations reflect today, but it is our image-calling as God’s children. This is why we can’t mix oranges with apples.
Colonialism isn’t just a feature of our nations, it is also a feature of Christianity. This comes from our background in Greek philosophy. Gnosticism teaches that the material creation is basically evil, and we are essentially spiritual beings, destined to an out-of-body eternity in heaven. Therefore, we can treat this creation as colonial masters, pillaging its resources, and throwing away the rubbish. It’s a very selfish way of seeing the world, not surprising, as the philosophy comes from a pagan background. It’s completely contrary to the Creation story.
We are not colonialists in this world. We are stewards. Peter called us “pilgrims,” John Bunyan changed this to “pilgrims passing through,” as if this material creation isn’t our home. Bunyan was correct concerning the culture of this world, but we are not correct in assuming that the world itself is to be handed over by us to destruction. Peter’s use of “pilgrims” meant ambassadors from heaven, to bring about a new culture of self-giving, enemy-loving care for the new creation.
Unfortunately, we have been so steeped in such teaching over the years, that we think it excuses us from our original commission of stewardship. “The planet is to be destroyed,” we are told, “so any act towards saving this planet from God’s wrath is against God.” What a disaster this way of reading the bible has become. What a dereliction of duty, both towards healing our enemies and fulfilling our God given stewardship over the planet. We have to be willing to see our problem here, and then willing to go back to scripture and listen to it properly.
I met a man in a church who said, “Glory to God. God is going to use America to wipe out all the Arabs in a pre-emptive nuclear attack, after Jesus takes us all to heaven.” And then he took another sip of his coffee. I don’t how many times I have heard stuff like this. How have we become this kind of people? Why do we listen to teaching like this? Why does it make us feel good?
Colonialism, nationalism, competition for resources, rationalised by religious sentiments, rotten oranges and rotten apples mixed together, form a vicious cocktail which makes us all drunk and ripe for the “last battle.” If this happens, it is we who do it, not God.
Our nations seem to be rushing towards that day. “Economic growth,” we are told, “is the index of the wellness of our society.” We compete with nations for growth, exploiting resources and building weaponry to protect our influence. It’s hard to know what will befall us first. An environmental catastrophe, like Noah’s Flood, that will destroy so much, or a war of equal proportions. We are willing, it seems, to risk alienation with a huge part of the world, often the destruction of many nations and people, to achieve our economic growth necessities.
It seems to be madness. Why is “economic growth” the measure of our wellness? We jeopardise so much to get this measurement to rise each day at our stock markets. Is it because it guarantees our jobs, the money we need for our children’s upbringing and for our holidays? Is this more important than our real wellness?
Our stock markets have been rising, but the real wage value for most people has been going down. Are our people in our own country also now being colonised? There is now a huge disparity between the rich and the poor. So the stock markets don’t even measure our common financial wealth, let alone measuring our real wellness. We have to start thinking of other measurements to use.
Jesus gave us several better measurements. This was much of the purpose of his coming. He places covetousness well below relationships on the list. He said it is better to give your shirt to the person who stole your coat, in a redemptive attempt to restore the relationship. The relationship meant more than the coat and the shirt.
If God’s original plan for us at creation was to inhabit the world in family, then rebuilding that family must be one of our prime objectives. How do we do that? Let alone not having the technological know-how for this, we often don’t even believe its God’s will. We say it is compromise for us to seek oneness with the world. Then why did God seek reconciliation with us on the cross?
The children of God are the ones to deliver the creation from its bondage to destruction, by being reconciling people in the midst of our enemies. It’s a costly life, but it is following the cross. “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
Our reconciling living, seeking to draw people together, by our own self-giving lives, is our demonstration in the world of the cross of Christ. It explains the cross by example, so people can actually see it. It gives local and global witness to the gospel. Living this way isn’t the way of antichrist, it is the way of Christ.
So one good indication of our wellness, is how are we doing in rebuilding relationships with our enemies in the world? How are we doing in our outreach and love towards those who have persecuted us? This is how the early church won Rome. They buried the pagan Roman soldiers who killed their brothers, treating them as humans made in the image of God. The early church invested their learning in a new “technology” of relationships, “not of this world.”
This kind of living is certainly a “technology,” a skill that we have to place importance on to learn, develop and practice, before we can begin to turn things around. It isn’t a skill we know naturally, growing up in our world. We have to pursue it, like we have pursued other resources and pursued economic growth.
A second, but similar indicator of our wellness, is how are our relationships within our own country? This means across social differences, economic differences, racial and religious differences. Are we a country that continues to divide, or do we build customs that bring us together to care for each other’s real condition? If our heart hardens at home, it will harden also in international affairs. A hard heart is a very dangerous thing in the world. We need indicators that tell us our heart condition, and how we treat the poor, sick, homeless and disabled is a very good indicator.
We speak about abortion, euthanasia, immorality and I agree these are indicators of hardness, or self-centredness. But there are also other indictors of hardness, that may have something to say about ourselves. Jesus spoke about this to the Pharisees. He called it “the signs (indicators) of the times.” I believe he was referring to the coming destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. They brought it upon themselves by their own hardness. They refused to care for others, for the sinner, the foreigner and their culture hardened. We are the salt, meaning we are the ones who can bear our cross, to bring a new mercy back to our cultures and nations. Mercy is the salt that is much needed.
So we are oranges, not apples. Our call is to fix the world through mercy, not by calling for aggression. First of all, we are to be free form sin ourselves. Secondly, we are to reach out to others and help restore them in mercy. This helps us with our real inner sin of self, giving us a new heart for others, and compassion.
In a colonial world, we go for resources and we do it in competitive relationships. Both of these behaviours tend to the destruction of the world. Destruction is our sure course, unless we change. In the world God created, we build relationships and we steward the environment for its sustainability. These are two of the behaviours we must learn from Christ, who gave his life to restore our hearts, in the hope, not of throwing the creation away, but of a new creation.
An excuse of some Christians to shy away from environmental stewardship is that some cults put emphasis on the environment, sneezing at moral norms. We see variations of this within society. When I grew up, taking sugar in your tea was frowned upon more than adultery. The fact that creation in Genesis represents a temple, where God existed with humanity in relationship (just as in Revelation 21-22), in which humanity are the guardian priests, isn’t denied because some worship the environment. It is still biblical.
It’s easy to point to the Ten Commandments and say they speak of adultery, lying and idolatry, but not environmentalism. But they do speak of environmentalism. Idolatry is the greedy exploitation of resources. The Ten Commandments also make covetousness a strong theme, with neighbourliness mentioned as the main criteria that formed Israel as distinct from their experience in Egypt.
New creation: learning to build new relationships, learning to renew the environment, its deforestation, its deserts, its pollution of land, sea and air. The ecosystem is presently in a very dangerous state of pollution. Instead of digging resources out of the ground in a frenzy, we can invest in and learn about renewables. This isn’t antichrist, it’s stewardship. It’s also the market of the future.
Isaiah described a world in which both things are better: relationships and the environment blossom beyond imagination. It isn’t that God waves a magic wand to do this, but it’s that we, as Christ’s followers bring a new light, a new kingdom, into this world. Israel wanted a wand, but Christ gave them the cross instead, his sufferings and ours to follow.
This is how the early church saw themselves. They claimed to be the “Isaianic people,” the ones who were beating their swords into ploughs, to make all things new. What a bold vision they had, and they laid their lives down for it. They gave us the progress we have today. But when we joined forces with Constantine, our view of things shifted. We started to use Caesar to fix things. Caesar is Caesar, we are not. Christ and his cross is our Caesar.
If we claim that today’s “Constantine” is our best bet in a fallen world, this approach brings a lot of collateral damage to our brothers in foreign lands. Christianity becomes politically aligned, which means the enemy of our “Constantine” becomes the enemy of Christians. Even today, this is often the reason why Christians are persecuted and killed in foreign lands. It is political. They pay the price of our security.
If we seek to fix this by imposing our own international law, we virtually have to conquer the world to enforce that law. But Christ didn’t put his church on this path. He put us on the path of the cross, not on the path of colonising the world. That is, if we love the enemy, Christians in those regions will be treated better and the church will grow.
Indicators of wellbeing include how we serve each other. We know our world is a long way from this, but surely it is the call of the church to reflect this as the truth, to live this out in our relationships with others, locally and interracially as the church, or in our attempts to restore and serve our enemies who are in trouble in the world. This is the duty and the call of the church. We aren’t to believe the lie of our world, putting our hopes in our “economic growth,” while we neglect the poor, compete with other nations and pillage our environment. Our hope isn’t capitalism, but “neighbourism.”
Neighbourism was the way of the early church in Acts. It means we love the world around us, and we refuse to act in ways that are destructive to it. When the apostle John said we are not to love the world, he meant the destructive culture of the world. He likened this destructive nature to our hatred of one another. This doesn’t mean we aren’t to love the creation and its people as God’s gift to us, even the people we have difficulty with. We are to deal with the creation and its people, including the difficult people, with thanksgiving, and reconciling care, not with self-centred destruction.
Indicators of a well society:
- Caring for the weak
- Caring for the poor
- Healing, rather than competitive relationships
- Caring for the refugees
- Our refusal to scapegoat others, by rather to listen to, understand and work for the wellbeing of others
- Our ability to work together to restore other nations, rather than seeing them as resource centres, or economic centres to control
- Our love for the sinner and for those we disagree with, to share the love of Jesus with the person of the other faith, to seek to restore, rather than to dominate
- Our tendency to resolve issues by talking up our cross, rather than by isolation
- Our view of the environment, not as something to deplete and destroy for ourselves, but as something to pass on in a better more enriched state to the next generation
- Seeking to rehabilitate criminals instead of putting them out of our mind
Even if criminality is entirely our own choice and fault, it is still our call to serve those who fall into it. God served us in our sin. But what if there are social conditions, hurts and lack of opportunities, that increase crime in certain populations? Won’t people who grow up in these conditions of corruption be angry if an unjust world passes by on the other side? Won’t this anger also make it hard for them?
Is it wrong for the hungry man to steal bread for his family? Yet the person who steals money through enriching himself in speculative investments is honoured. This is another problem in our idolatry of the GNP.
Prisons should be places of rehabilitation. If people are punished for what they did wrong, without an admission also of the wrong of society and without society’s genuine attempt to help, then the bitterness that is passed onto the next generation perpetuates the problem and even increases it. The colonial master punishes the uprising. The society that is whole cares for the people instead. The first leads to war, the second leads to healing and peace.
This is what the Jubilee of the Old Testament teaches us, so that the sin of one generation isn’t passed onto to following generations. Jubilee restores the people who lost out economically, even those who did so by doing wrong. This is God’s heart for how we treat each other. Israel never obeyed Jubilee. We don’t follow it in our societies either. Jubilee is possibly the number one indicator of the wellbeing of our society. It shows we have recovered from a colonial heart, to restore the world instead of exploiting it and throwing away the rubbish.
Restorative rather than punitive justice, shows the state of the heart of the nation, and of the believer. This indicates, “The state of the nation.”
Our economy should be put to work to achieve these goals listed above, not at the expense or pushing aside of these goals. When we start to build our lives this way, we could say we are no longer living in and exploiting the world as colonialists. Instead of an exploitive version of Gross National Product, what about Gross Domestic, International and Environmental Relationships? As followers of Jesus, which vision do we throw our weight behind?