Charlie's Blog: Canaan



. . . Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left.”

Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere—this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar. So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom.

The story of Lot and Abraham is one I remember all the way back from Sunday School in the Baptist church. The gist of it is pretty basic. Lot and Abraham had large flocks, but there was strife between the two operations. Seeking to settle the strife, Abraham gave Lot first choice on the land, and Lot chose the best of the two options. This would be his undoing as he lost everything in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is a simple story, but it is a deep story if you choose to meditate upon it.

The first thing we have to say is that Lot is not a bad guy. He does seem to be a worldly fellow, but he is not an evil fellow which seems to be why the Lord spared him from the destruction that would come later. But Abraham wanted to end strife, and he knew the easiest way to do this would be to divide and let Lot have what he sought. Lot could never come back on Abraham later and claim he got a raw deal. Lot had his pick.

The second thing we have to say is that God is providential. Abraham got the bad end of the deal, but it worked out great for him. Abraham was stuck in the boondocks of Canaan while Lot got the city life of Sodom and Gomorrah. But sometimes, the worst calamity is getting what you want. By letting Lot decide, Abraham was actually letting God decide. This is faith. The world fights tooth and nail to get the better end of every deal, but the person of faith trusts in God to help him instead of cunning and cleverness.

The third thing we have to say is that God prefers the humble and the overlooked. Compared to Sodom, Canaan was humble land. Abraham was a humble man. Lot and Abraham remind me of the old story of the city mouse and the country mouse.

The City Mouse and the Country Mouse

There once was a mouse who liked his country house until his cousin came for a visit.

"In the city where I live," his cousin said, "we dine on cheese and fish and bread. Each night my dinner is brought to me. I eat whatever I choose. While you, country cousin, work your paws to the bone for humble crumbs in this humble home. I'm used to finery. To each his own, I see!"

Upon hearing this, the country mouse looked again at his plain brown house. Suddenly he wasn't satisfied anymore. "Why should I hunt and scrape for food to store?" he said. "Cousin, I'm coming to the city with you!"

Off they went into the fine town house of the plump and prosperous city mouse.

"Shhh! The people are in the parlor," the city mouse said. "Let's sneak into the kitchen for some cheese and bread."

The city mouse gave his wide-eyed country cousin a grand tour of the leftover food on the table. "It's the easy life," the city mouse said, and he smiled as he bit into a piece of bread.

Just as they were both about to bite into a chunk of cheddar cheese, In came the CAT!

"Run! Run!" said the city mouse. "The cat's in the house!"

Just as the country mouse scampered for his life out of the window, he said, "Cousin, I'm going back to the country! You never told me that a CAT lives here! Thank you, but I'll take my humble crumbs in comfort over all of your finery with fear!"

There are many ways to read the story of the city mouse and the country mouse. Some people think the country mouse has the better way while others think the city mouse has the better way. I think the best way to read the story is to acknowledge that there are upsides and downsides to every path. It would be nice to imagine a place where you can have the best of both worlds, but this place does not exist in the real world. Basically, you can't have your cake and eat it, too. But people still try.

I can't read the Bible or stories of the saints and not come away thinking that God prefers the country mouse over the city mouse. The story of Abraham and Lot is essentially this story. The story of Israel and all the big bad empires like the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Greeks, and the Romans also shows to me that God prefers little Israel over the imperial kingdoms. Finally, there is the Catholic Church that is both big and small at the same time. Spending some time in a cathedral filled with poor Mexican immigrants changes your perspective on things. The poor are the royalty of God's kingdom.

Canaan for me has come to be a term for living in the Humble Zone. This is choosing rural over urban. This is choosing blue collar over white collar. It is choosing to be friends with the poor instead of the rich and sophisticated. It is choosing to live in a hick Red State instead of a sophisticated Blue State. It is choosing to drive the economy car instead of the BMW. Proverbs 17:1 says, "Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife." That dichotomy is important.

The ambitious are never satisified. This is because evil is never satisfied. The real key to Abraham letting Lot have his choice is the fact that Abraham was someone who could be satisfied. What Abraham wanted was peace and tranquility with his kinsman, so he thought it was worth the price of not getting the choice land. Conversely, Lot fell in with the evil people attracted to the very things that pulled him in. When you pursue the wrong things, don't be surprised when you find yourself surrounded by the wrong people. Those wrong people will devour you. This is why when you choose wrongly you won't keep what you pursued. This is because the things you have motivates the envy of others.

The humble path leads to peace, and this is what we should really be striving towards. As far as it is possible for us, we should strive to live quiet and peaceful lives. This was the admonition of St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 when he wrote, ". . .make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you." This definitely sounds like the country mouse.

I wish that being the country mouse would be the end of the story, but it isn't. As I said, evil is never satisfied. It always wants more. You can choose the most modest lifestyle and live in the humblest place, but inevitably, evil wants that little bit you have as well. But as far as it is possible, you should head for Canaan and stay away from Sodom and Gomorrah.