This morning I awoke with a powerful longing for my home. I dream about it. It makes my sleep restless. I have always had a longing for home. Even as a child, if I strayed too far, what to me seemed a long way from home, created a strong longing to return, to go back home. Then it could have been just a few hundred yards. It might have been the back side of the farm. As we grow older, these places are included, in my heart, as part of home. The soil, the trees, and the air are part of home. But home was really where my family was, where there was safety and belonging and warmth.
In my early 60s, after a lifetime of hard work, my wife and I are homeless. Our house flooded in the great unnamed flood of 2016. I don’t know what it means. It seems meaningless to me, cold, hard, and terrible that the river broke from its channel and somehow flooded a place that was not supposed to flood. River water ran through the house as if it were the river channel, the river’s home.
It was two months ago when the water rose, in just a matter of minutes, and took all that we owned away from us. Really, it was just another in a series of events that have conspired to take away our sense of place. I cannot express the longing I have for my home. It is the place where my wife and I made our lives.
We never owned a home before. We had lived in a church parsonage, in rented apartments, school housing, places that were often strange to us but for that moment in time we made it home. Now we live at the mercy of kind people who allow us to live in their homes. We sit on borrowed chairs and watch TV a borrowed TV. We cook and eat in a borrowed kitchen and we sleep in a borrowed room. It is a painful existence. But, I guess, this will come to an end in a few months when our home his restored as much as it can be restored. We will return home with the knowledge of how delicate that idea really is, something that can be taken away by the mere force of river water. We will return with the emotional scars of seeing the water rush into our home knowing that was nothing we could do about it. The irony of it all is we moved there because it was out of the flood zone and we thought it would be high and dry during times of flooding that often happens in south Louisiana.
When you think about it, even our home is really borrowed isn’t it. There is nothing permanent in this life. It is people who make it home. Loved ones die and leave a big hole in your life. Children grow and leave. You move far away and friends begin to fade. You live in strange surroundings and you make it home.
The idea of home, for me, is a complex of ideas and experiences. I miss the woods and the cows and the pigs of home. I miss the plowed fields and the smell of freshly turned over dirt. I miss the smells of the seasons and the colors as the seasons change. I miss the extended family at Thanksgiving and Christmas with all the chatter and noise and warmth and the sharing of a family meal. I miss my aunts and uncles and cousins. So many are gone. So much has changed. In that sense, home is no more. But the longing never goes away.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this idea of home, or rather, the longing for home. I wrote about it in seminary so long ago. I preached it and shared it with others. I found words to help me express this longing in the writings of C. S. Lewis and other writers. But the place that helps me best express this longing is in the Bible.
It is the story of all of us. Adam and Eve were turned out of their home because of their rebellion against God. Rebellion is the meaning of sin, to rebel, to do what I want instead of what my creator wants from me. The eviction from Eden was both judgment and mercy. It was a perfect place and the sin of our first parents made them unfit for their perfect home. Can you imagine the longing for home that both Adam and Eve must have experienced? The coolness of the day, the animals that Adam named, the beautiful plants and trees, not a care in the world and it was all gone. Now they did not belong. They had to raise their own food and make their own way, find their own shelter and even now, make their own clothes. What an ache of the heart they must have known because, not only had the lost their home, it was their fault.
We don’t like to take responsibility for our problems. We blame God or our neighbor but we fail to remember that all of our troubles began with our first parents’ rebellion and we share in that rebellion. All of our lostness and suffering and death and tragedy began in that moment of rebellion. Should we not, on occasion, weep because of our condition?
The whole story of God as presented to us is the story of our slow journey home. The consequences of our rebellion are not so easily overcome. Judgment of the world means that we live out that judgment. We make every effort to conquer the brokenness of our world, poverty, disease, social ailments, racism, economic inequality, etc. We do everything we can to make life better but we always run into that wall of judgment, that condition of being fallen and at the very core of our person, sinners, rebels, broken, not being what we are supposed to be. Every effort we make, sometimes brilliant achievements, does not change the human condition. In fact, it often causes us to descend into a worse kind of condition. Our social morality becomes the worst kind of immorality. We cannot think clearly about the human condition. Instead, we encourage more rebellion. And unfortunately, even in churches this human rebellion often rules instead of the Spirit of God.
Rebellion makes us care about nothing but about ourselves. Even our longing for home is all about me because I cannot escape the rebellion that is in my soul. We live imperfect lives, we love with an imperfect love and we care for others with an imperfect heart. We cannot escape our rebellion, even when we rest in the arms of Christ. When we come to faith in Christ, our rebellion never quite goes away. I wish our sanctification and glorification happened in an instant. But God’s judgment requires that the world plays out its existence within this judged state. The world we live in is judged and it will one day cease to exist. It is inevitable that our time runs out, the world grows old and groans under the burden of our sin. Even in this dying world we still long for home.
So, what is this longing? The book of Hebrews tells us about it. It is something built into us. It is like a homing beacon that draws us to a particular location. All the saints of old experienced it.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Heb. 11:13-16 ESV)
That’s it! I long for a better country. I long for the City of God! In that place we call God Father and Jesus Brother, even as we are entitled to do now. We are sons and daughters of God! We are aliens and strangers in a foreign land and we look for a better country. We are drawn to it because we, who follow Christ, are citizens of that country and that city. It will be the one place where we feel completely at home. We will be remade in such a way that we can look into the face of our Holy God, as Adam and Eve did once–this is what glorification means. Wanderlust, anxiety, heartache, loneliness, emptiness, sorrow, and brokenness are just some of the issues that will be washed away when we are remade.
It is such a bittersweet desire. I love life and I love my wife and family and friends. I love my home that I am drawn to. But I realize that this longing goes well beyond these earthly desires. It is a longing that makes what we know to look pale and weak by comparison. And it is that longing that drives us to make a home here in our time and place. We are fulfilling, imperfectly, a strong need of our soul.
I think those who are in Christ realize that we are out of place. We don’t fit in. We are, as Lewis, said, behind enemy lines. The history of salvation is the path to home. It started with the fall and will end in total restoration of God’s creation. This world is wearing out. God prepares for us a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and earth disappear. That is what we long for. It is another country, another land. It is a city made by the hands of God. He is its architect and its builder. It is the City of God. And all of our longing is for that place. It is home.
I will always long for my home, for the people I love, for the land to which I belong, for the friends and relatives that I miss. I will always long for my wife and my children and grandchildren. But, none of these will ever stop that deep, deep longing for my heavenly home. It is because those who are in Christ, and only those in Christ, belong to another kingdom, another land, another city, another home.