We are out of land. Not as a country, as a planet. For most of human history, it was possible to go into the woods, over the mountains, or across the ocean and stake out a new homestead, settlement, or colony. Within the last hundred years (maybe 150), that is no longer the case. So, what are the implications?
On the surface, it means the earth is filling up. Google tells me we are at 7.4 billion people currently, which is almost double the population when I was born. Scholars and politicians have been wringing their hands about this for some time, but I’m not interested in the demographics for this post. The more metaphysical effect is the practical end to utopian and escapist plans, conspiracies, and dreams. Minorities and disenfranchised peoples have no where to go that isn’t already occupied so now they must either fight or submit.
For Christians that means that the new Jerusalem is now firmly not of this world and perhaps that is not all bad. We are forced to separate our faith from any nationalistic aspirations. No more Calvin’s Geneva. No more Holy Roman Empire. Instead of building a city on a hill, we face an ever increasing possibility of being driven underground. Even my “go plant a monastery” daydreams are increasingly thwarted as hostility toward religious organizations in the United States by federal and local governments make it seem less likely.
None of this surprises God. His perspective is much higher than ours.
Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 23:23-24 (ESV)
The Lord is responsible for filling heaven and earth and he is not surprised that there are 7.4 billion people on the planet. It thwarts no plan of God that we cannot band together and try to start a new colony somewhere. In fact, it is part of his plan.
We are forced to be salt and light to those around us. It might be uncomfortable and humbling, but we can’t run and hide. Thomas Merton provides good insight into solitude:
But the only justification for a life of deliberate solitude is the conviction that it will help you to love not only God but also other men. If you go into the desert merely to get away from people you dislike, you will find neither peace nor solitude; you will only isolate yourself with a tribe of devils.
New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 52
And a little later he writes,
But if you try to escape from this world merely by leaving the city and hiding yourself in solitude, you will only take the city with you into solitude; and yet you can be entirely out of the world while remaining in the midst of it, if you let God set you free from your own selfishness and if you live for love alone.
For such a time as this we are here.
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.
Hebrews 12:28 (ESV)