Mocking of Christ,1596, Annibale Carracci

Why Will the Meek Inherit the Earth?

We live in a world where the stronger man, the more arrogant and manipulative, seem to trounce the humble at heart in our daily lives as well as in the historical record. Then why did the psalmist David write, "But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity." Jesus confirmed David’s testimony in the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." But what does 'meek' mean anyway?

In English, meek rhymes with weak (and geek), and some might try to apply that meaning, but are those the meanings? The New Testament version of the word translates in Greek to gentle, mild, placid, benign. Those terms may be getting us closer to the meaning.

In David's psalm, the Hebrew word is anav, which is is often translated in Scripture as humble. Interestingly, the Hebrew word is built off the root actions of responding or answering, which gives us not a subservient feeling, but a feeling of being charitable and loving. Are we getting closer? Not only is anav thought of as being humble, but it is also translated as poor and lowly.

Still, we ask, what is the nature of humility that will allow the meek to inherit the earth? Don't the strong the ones inherit the earth? Don't the ones who fight the way to the top and destroy others the ones who succeed and prosper? If you have lived for any time as an adult, or gone to middle school, the meek seem to be the losers not the winners.

I can hear someone saying, "It's dog-eat-dog world." No it's not. But instead of arguing from traditional angles, I'd like to look at just why from an ecological mindset, since we are talking about inheriting the earth after all.

Ecologists are a remnant of scientists who still look at forms, in the Platonian sense. So I want to very briefly look at why certain biological morphologies (structures and behaviors) do well in a particular situation and then apply that understanding to the human creature.

In ecology certain forms (morphologies) are more 'fit' than others to live in certain environments. The pointed-tree form, for example, sheds snow well and are found at higher latitudes or where it snows more often. Rarely will you find this form living naturally in tropical ecosystems. On the other hand, try planting a palm tree in Alaska and see if it survives just one winter. Non-deciduous broad-leafed trees get crushed in the first deep snow or biting subzero temperatures. In animal biology the same thing happens. Put an enormous polar bear in Florida and it will suffer. Plato would be happy to hear modern ecologists support his idea of forms. Forms are indeed important. Some structures work and some don't depending on local conditions. It's the foundation of ecology.

The psalmist is telling us the same thing. This unique behavioral and spiritual form of the human—meekness—is fit for the earth. Humility is the form that survives. Arrogant man is an invasive species and will not survive on earth. He will die and forever be removed from the land, simply because the man-of-pride form does not fit on earth. True, it may not seem that way now, but we are very myopic in our view of time.

Short term thinking tends to developed misconception in many branches of thought. Ecology is no different. One prevalent misconception is: invasive species are bad and must be destroyed. Now, I'm generalizing. Ecologists know there are a many ways to work to prevent the rampant proliferation of invasive species across a landscape. But the idea remains that if we don't do something about them that they will take over and bad things will happen.

Invasive species are typically thought of as exotic plants or animals that have the capacity to quickly take over in a given ecosystem, simply because they have no natural predator or there are no natural defenses built into the local ecology to prevent their proliferation. In the short term, yes, these species do sweep across an ecosystem and damage native biology, but in the long term, their form is not adaptive to the long-term conditions of an ecosystem, so they will not survive. In time, either (a) they will die out because they didn't develop there, or (b) they will adapt and take on the natural form of the native species that live in the area.

The same goes for humans. The further we diverge from our naturally intended form, the more exotic and invasive we become on the earth. And yet, the more prone to self-destruction we become (individually and collectively). Invasive species tend to damage an ecosystem in their exponential growth and in doing so, they end up destroying themselves. Humans are doing the same thing, we have altered our behavioral, chemical and spiritual ecology to our own destruction. And there are only two options for us: (a) to die or (b) to adapt back into our native form. This native form is what John the Evangelist called the logos or the word. It's what Christians call the living word, which is Christ in the fullness of his meekness, humility and loving servanthood on the cross.

Thankfully, as in ecology, nature tends to right itself and God will right us. Pressures force nature to its 'native' position. Trees won't grow sideways for very long after the hillside slumps, they start growing upward immediately. Humans will be "righted" as well, but those that will be righted are only the ones that will allow themselves to see correction, accept it and do it. This is what was meant when the David wrote, "But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity," and when Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek." Meekness is our native state. And it is in this state through which the human species will survive.

We see arrogant man in the present age as the winner, just as an ecologist might see European starlings, kudzu or zebra mussels as the ecological winner in North America. But given time, these species will either die out or adapt to change into something that mirrors the native forms of our lands. Arrogant man will die off, too, unless he adapt into the form that works: our Christ Jesus.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:2-4