Church is a big business. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic church amassed an enormous wealth in land and artifacts. Many of today’s Christian leaders have done or are doing the same thing. Where the superstars go, plenty of mini-popes wish to follow.
Despite the recent depression and tighter spending, we continue to hear passionate pleas to give money in many churches and conferences across the united States. There is the building fund that needs to be filled, or missionaries who are to simply go. We can do these things because we have faith that God will provide the necessary funds for our grand visions. After all, God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, right?
It turns out that if you turn to Psalm 50, David is writing that God doesn’t want your sacrifices or offerings. He says that he has plenty… but this verse continues to be misused during instructions to donate more because “God will give it back to you.”
Maybe we are counting our chickens before they hatch, or being prodigal with our inheritance.
Due to the number of times that I have heard the “cattle on a thousand hills” phrase abused, I thought that it was time someone figured out exactly how much money God does have. Let us run some rough figures.
In order to learn how much God owns, we need two definitions. The first is how big a hill is, and the second is what “cattle” means.
Definitions of hills and mountains vary between individuals. Wikipedia has a partial list of mountains on the earth, which I tally at 903. It seems like there would be more hills than mountains in the world… and it turns out that Rwanda is known as the “Land of a Thousand Hills.” The country covers 10,169 square miles and the hills in it are described as “gently rolling” which tells us that the terrain is not overly soft or harsh. Nobody has counted the number of hills in Israel (that I have found), so I am going to extrapolate from Rwanda.
Dry land on our planet takes up roughly 57 million square miles. If we divide that by the 10,169 square miles covered by Rwanda, and then multiply by 1000 hills, we get 5.6 million hills on the surface of the earth.
Those of you who are good with logic will see several assumptions here, but you should also notice that all of my rounding is an attempt to be optimistic. You will see why at the end.
The second question above was about the definition of “cattle.” We tend to figure that “cattle” are cows, but dictionaries allow for a more broad definition (Webster’s 1913):
Quadrupeds of the Bovine family; sometimes, also, including all domestic quadrupeds, as sheep, goats, horses, mules, asses and swine.
Using this definition, let’s figure 1.3 billion cows, 1 billion sheep, ~700 million goats, 59 million horses, 44 million donkeys, ~1 billion pigs... and round up to 5 billion cattle.
Now come the calculations. 5 billion cattle divided by 5.6 million hills equals 893 cattle per hill, which means that God (optimistically) owns 893,000 cattle.
Depending on the types of animals, we could figure between $300 and $6000 for an average price. Because the animals used are both small animals and large, we will use $1000/ea to simplify the math. That makes God the proud owner of 893 million dollars worth of cattle.
Are you worried yet? You should be since there are an estimated 2.1 billion Christians in the world, and 893 million dollars divided across 2.1 billion people is $0.43/ea.
Next time that you hear a preacher tell you to do something and not think of the cost because “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills,” do yourself a favor. Remember this little piece of satire and Jesus’ words in Luke 14 (around verse 28) first.
God is plumb broke.
** Please note that I am not advocating that you be selfish with your money. Just be smarter.