Praise the Lord, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!
“Imagine there’s no heaven… no hell below us, above us only sky… Imagine there’s no countries… no religion too. Imagine all the people, living life in peace… and the world will be as one.”
– John Lennon, “Imagine”
Lennon was neither the first, nor the last, to call us to unity as a world. His song, deceptively simple in its lyrics, hauntingly simple in its melody, is far from simple in its message. As a dreamer, a poet, an activist, he saw all the divisions in the world, and he called us to unity. His answer: get rid of all the things that divide us, one of the main dividers being religion.
But it is not simply poets and former Beatles who locate a source of our disunity in religion. Regina Schwartz, currently a literature professor at Northwestern University, wrote The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism on the very same question. She argues that it is intrinsic within monotheism to create division—to create a “chosen” people, and thus by default an “un-chosen” people. It is in the creation of “the Other” where violence begins, division begins, and peace is lost. These voices are just a few of the myriad in our culture calling all religions toward unity and peace and away from the violence of differentiation.
The assumption lying behind these calls is simple: “Our different beliefs in god/s divide us and lead to violence.” The corresponding solutions then, are often apparently simple:
- Get rid of god/s altogether (see the “New Atheists” like Hitchens and Dawkins).
- Merge all god/s into one, with multiple paths to communion with him/her/it (that guy you talk to in Starbucks).
- Recognize differences in religions, realize that many are irreconcilable, and then focus on what else can unite you—in effect declaring religion personally beneficial, but publicly useless.
None of these solutions have worked, or will work.
Our passage this Sunday, as Rev. Dan Iverson reminded us, also directs us toward unity. “All nations, all peoples” are the addressees. The assumption behind this text is far different from the one driving Lennon and Schwartz. The source of division is not found in religion, or in God at all; the source of division is found within the human heart. Religion is divisive because humanity is divisive; one look at the last century will show that we are as divisive in our irreligion as we ever are in our religion. Thus the solution cannot simply be to rid the world of all religion and all gods; rather than leading to unity, that would create a world even more divided, and a world full of eight billion gods.
The Psalmist’s solution? His path to world unity?
If the problem with the world is not that our belief in God divides us from each other, but rather that our belief in ourselves divides us from God, then the answer must be a refocusing of our attention, our belief, and our praise. It is only in our reconciliation to the One God that we can achieve reconciliation with each other; it is in our reunion with Him that we can truly find unity with each other.
And what is the reason for our praise? It is in His great love and his forever faithfulness, made all the more amazing by our minuscule affection and fleeting faith. For the Psalmist, his praise looked both backward and forward: back toward all the ways in which God had demonstrated his love, in the Exodus, in the Promised Land, and in His appointed king; forward to the promises still waiting. For us, our praise too looks backward and forward: back toward God’s love demonstrated perfectly in the cross; forward to the culmination of the reconciliation which finds people of every tribe, every nation, and every language joined together praising God.
You may say I am just a dreamer, but on that Day, the world will finally be one.