Driving down the road the other day, some lyrics to a contemporary Christian song struck me. I’d heard the song dozens of times. But this time it was as if the music in the background and all other sounds except the words were inaudible. “This is not, this is not our home,” crooned the vocalist. My face cringed and my shoulders raised up near my ears, as often occurs when I hear theological thoughts about which I’m not too sure. “Well…” I said out loud to no one.In defense of the song writer and artist, this is not the only contemporary Christian song that decries this theology. Indeed, there are others. “Take this world from me. I don’t need it anymore.” open MercyMe’s “Spoken For”. Some tried and true hymns that have been with us for eons are not immune. The refrain of one of my favorites, as an example, intones, “Give me Jesus, give me Jesus. You can have all of this world. Give me Jesus.”
On this day in my vehicle, I began to wonder. Is this not our home?
The idea that earth is not our home is solidly based in Greek philosophy, namely the dualism of the eternal and the material. That which is eternal is divinely created or of divine essence, if not divine itself. Such existence is therefore beautiful, ethereal, perfect, pure and the of-all-end-all of life. The material, on the other hand, is ephemeral, visceral, prone to decay and disintegration and all-out fallen. Insofar as the eternal and material might coexist, the material was understood to be a prison of the eternal, inhibiting and even tarnishing it. All of life lamented miserably, the philosophy continued, until it could be liberated in death and separated from the material forever.
Judeo-Christian theology offers quite a different take, however. The two creation accounts in Genesis reveal an active, intimate God not only speaking into creation all that is, but hovering over it; providing for its sustenance; commanding its continuance; calling it good; and even walking unveiled amidst it. Matter is not God’s antagonist, so to speak. It is God’s artwork, and it is beloved (cf. John 3:16). Indeed, God so loves the world.
Is this not our home?
Perhaps the dualistic understanding issues from a cursory read of Revelation. Yes, there is quite a bit of destruction going on. When the Lamb breaks the seal and he returns in his glory, the earth groans under the weight of it all. Nothing created can wholly withstand God’s unmitigated presence, much less God’s final work unleashed on the “great and terrible day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5). But (and this is important), what comes to fruition at the end of it all is the new heaven AND the new earth. The material is not destroyed in favor of the eternal, it is redeemed and recreated. To be sure, it is Eden 2.0 — heaven and earth are as one, for the Lord makes God’s home amongst creation:
I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate” (Revelation 21:1-5, The Message).
If God cares enough to love and recreate the world around us, who are we to dis and desire dislodging from it? As comforting as eternal/material dualistic thinking might be (particularly in difficult times), it breeds an escapist attitude, I fear. Thinking that “this is not our home,” we may have the tendency to disengage from the very work to which God has called us in the here and now. Moreover, we may overlook the crucial fact that the Spirit has been and continues to be at work redeeming people and creation. As heralded Christian author and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor poetically states in her book An Altar in the World, all of creation is saturated with the presence of God. If we were to erect an altar everywhere we experienced God as did our patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith, Brown Taylor posits, we’d be tripping over monuments everywhere.
Is this not our home? No, this life is not believers’ final end. Yes, our home is with God. By the power and presence of the Spirit within us, God is with us now. We are thereby home. Now.
Said another way, I can concede that perhaps the world in its present (read: fallen) state is not our ultimate home, but neither is it not our home. Death, decay, down times and even destruction do not a godless world make. On the contrary, God is Lord of it all. God created this world and gave it to humanity to steward (Gen 1:29-30); to love (Matthew 22:37-40); and with the Spirit to evangelize (Acts 1:7-8). We are of this world, created by the hand of God with its matter (Gen 2:5-7). Indeed, the Hebrew word translated “Adam” fundamentally means “of the ground”. We are called to be present and faithful in and to God’s world of which we are a part, not to anticipate escaping it. After all, it is with the world and not apart from it, as argued above, that we will be made new.
The world is a gift, as is everything else of God, seen and unseen. Morning by morning, season by season new mercies we see, as well as natural disasters and the unsolvable mysteries of life. This is God’s world. “[God] shines in all that’s fair; in the rustling grass [we] hear [God] pass; [God] speaks to [us] everywhere. …O let [us] ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”