Og the Aboriginal ... or

Whose land is it anyway?

by Brian Watts

... the Canadian dilemma ... territory ... fought for.

He [God] has ...
pre-appointed ...
the boundaries ...

Og was an aboriginal ...God allowed a
dispossession to
take place

... guilt-ridden

... our land may
be healed ...

The title of Mel Smith’s recent book succinctly describes the dilemma facing Canadians in the nineties: Our Home or Native Land? (Crown Western, 1995). Caucasian, heterosexual, Christian males like Smith are wondering whether this is our home any longer; we are certainly no longer the head of the home as we always, perhaps arrogantly, assumed we were. Now the claims that this is actually Native land are being voiced with increasing intensity, accompanied by a growing fear of violent confrontation.

But the Canadian dilemma is not unique. It is part of the world-wide phenomenon of volatile disputes between divergent ethnic groups over territorial rights. The former Yugoslavia is torn apart over who has historic rights to various tracts of land. Similar issues are at stake in the Middle East, in Rwanda, and in Northern Ireland among many other places in the world.

In some situations, solutions are being sought with the strength of military might. The land will go to the victor. We deplore the horrendous suffering that such a process entails, but before we become too self-righteous in our condemnation, we should bear in mind that this is the way in which most of the currently -accepted territorial boundaries were historically established. We now claim territory on moral or legal grounds - but it is territory that previous generations fought for.

Other conflicts are being tackled with a diplomatic approach in an effort to find political solutions. Points of law and the implications of previous treaties and agreements are analysed. Some reasonable compromise is sought. But again, it is easy to see how artificial and unstable such compromises are.

A quick glance at an atlas shows the best that man can do: maps are full of straight lines dividing territory. A straight line is often reflective of man’s vain attempts: God’s world is full of strange contours with different ethnic groups making their homes within the imaginative boundaries of rivers and mountains and oceans.

So how does God view our territorial disputes? Our starting point to understand the question must be Scripture. In particular, Paul’s statement at the Areopagus in Acts 17:26 is foundational:

    And He [God] has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.
Does that mean God drew all those straight lines on the map? Yes and no! No, He who created the distinctiveness of the Hutu and Tutsi tribes is far wiser than those who imagine that millennia of conflict could be banished by a European decision to create a nation called Rwanda. There is only one nation in which ethnic rivalry can be effectively reconciled: the holy nation which is the church. Only in Christ can one new man be created where once there were two.

Yet in a different sense, we have to say Yes! - God did draw all those straight lines on the map. As Paul said, all the nations had their preappointed times and boundaries. The boundaries were preappointed, so God knew all about the European schemes to divide up Africa. The times were also preordained, so it was God who set 1962 as the year when the Belgian mandated land would be granted independence as Rwanda. That does not guarantee that the boundaries will remain forever, but in His sovereignty, territory is delineated with both geographical and temporal limitations. The schemes of men, be they diplomatic or military, result in the preappointed times and boundaries decreed by God.

But as Paul spoke of this in the Areopagus, he went on to describe God's purpose behind the rise and fall of nations, and the expansion and shrinking of territory. He said that it was "so that they [the nations] should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for him and find him" (Acts 18:27). The countless Moslems coming to Christ in war-torn Yugoslavia bears eloquent testimony to God's redemptive purposes in geopolitical upheavals.

We understandably hate the suffering implicit in the territorial conflicts around us, be they across the world or in our own back yard. But as we remember God's sovereignty over the nations, we are reminded that God, in pursuit of His own redemptive purposes, directly initiated territorial conquests in Old Testament times.

In Psalm 135, we join in a song of praise to the greatness of God. He is described as the one who does what He pleases (vs.5,6). It may be hard on our modern sensitivities, but the Psalmist goes on to describe the annihilation of the Egyptians as an illustration of God's greatness and a reason to praise Him. As moderns, we are more likely to censure Him, but the Psalmist was quite excited about what He had done! In fact, he continues to list the kings who were destroyed, like Og, the king of Bashan, as God "gave their land [Canaan] as a heritage to Israel His people" (v.12).

Og was an aboriginal. His forefathers had been on the territory for generations. Many of his fellow Bashanites were probably nice people. But God had a bigger purpose in mind. He wanted to judge sin and build a nation through which His revelation would come to the world. So He tore up the old map and reallocated the lands. He has done the same in many ways at many times through history. Even the British, so proud of a millennium without foreign invasion, are no more than the product of the Norman conquest in the eleventh century. So the British are French after all!

Here in Canada, God allowed a dispossession to take place with the coming of the white man in previous centuries. In God's sovereignty, He allowed a new people to take over the land (just as the Normans over-ran England in 1066). That does not mean God was responsible for the atrocities that were committed on both sides during that dispossession: men bear the guilt and continue to reap the consequences. But despite the cruelty and sinfulness of man, God had a purpose. Those who regret the ascendancy of the white man in North America ultimately have to argue with God about that. But His purposes were essentially redemptive: the proclamation of the Gospel was at stake.

Does that mean that we can now claim that this native land is our home? Certainly God gave it; but, as we have seen, no territorial claims are eternal and no boundaries are fixed in perpetuity. We can argue about legal rights as much as we like, but ultimately we have to take our place under God's sovereignty.

We dare not gloat over the fact that God dispossessed the first nations, as if that sets us up for ever. God is not just a white man's God - and the white man does not have a prior claim to any portion of God's earth. The God who dispossessed the native Indians is just as likely to dispossess a disobedient white culture if His redemptive purposes are best served thereby.

As with the Canaanites, nations are often over-run as part of God's health and freedom to propagate it - it is we who have disregarded and disobeyed God's Word.

Sadly, we may end up losing our territory as guilt-ridden governments negotiate away that which has legally belonged to us for years. A confused people may even run away from territory as a result of armed conflict. In either case, it is ultimately God who would be superintending such scenarios - and in the end, we would have no grounds to dispute His legal rights in dispossessing us.

Alternatively, God may be gracious. If His people will repent, it is still possible that our land may be healed. It may remain as a bastion of the gospel. There may be harmony between all the ethnic groups that God has chosen to place together between our distant shores. But that can only occur in one nation under God. Outside of Christ, the dividing walls of hostility remain intact; only He is our peace. We know that it is God's ultimate intention to "bring all things together under one head, even Christ" (Eph 1:10). May it be so in our land for His Name's sake.
Brian Watts is the pastor of THE KING'S Community Church.Originally published in U-TURN

© 1994-2005 THE KING'S Community Church