Heaven country

I voted.  The election is over.  Now what?

Some are happy, celebrating the outcome.  Some are angry, disappointed, or sullen.  And some in one group are friends with, married to, or members of the same church as some in the other group.  Let us pray that any divisions between believers caused by the election would be reconciled under a common hope, a specifically Christian hope.

But to be clear: that’s not the same hope as the one celebrated in the president’s victory speech.

Revisiting the language that was central to his campaign platform four years ago, the president called upon all Americans to sustain a robust hope for the future.  Hope, he said, is neither “blind optimism” nor “wishful idealism” but “that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”

Building to a crescendo, the president spelled out the substance of that hope, a tenacious belief in the core “promise” of the American ideal: “If you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from…you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

It’s an indelible part of the shared American imagination, the cultural narrative that made the 19th century “rags to riches” novels of Horatio Alger so popular.  It’s the belief that so many parents have passed on to their kids: “You can make it if you try.”

That’s not what the Bible means by hope, nor the life of faith that goes with it.  We must remember that, if we are to be the church that God intends.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb 11:1, NIV).  We are given example after example of people who lived obediently with confidence in God’s promises.  Noah.  Abraham.  Isaac.  Jacob.  Sarah.

And then we read this:

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing.  How did they do it?  They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world.  People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home.  If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted.  But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country.  You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.  (Heb 11:13-16, The Message)

Perhaps a qualification would be in order.  It’s not as if the people named never saw a single promise or word of God fulfilled: Noah lived to see the flood; Isaac himself was the fulfillment of a divine promise to Abraham and Sarah.

But the promise is not simply about what God will do for me, in my lifetime, to make me happy or successful.  It may well include that, but can never be limited to that.  As the writer of Hebrews makes abundantly clear, those whose stories are filled with suffering and persecution are some of our best examples of true faith and hope (Heb 11:32-40).

The point is this.  As faithful Christians, we do hope for “a far better country”–but that means “heaven country,” not a new, improved America.  That’s not to say that we can’t hope or work for a better America; far from it.   But that’s not our biblical hope, the certainty that is the only true wellspring of joy in uncertain times:

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  (1 Pet 1:3-6, NIV)

Does that mean, as the saying goes, becoming “so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good”?  Not a bit.  We are called to be both salt and light.  But that means more than mere hard work and determination.  It means believing that God is sovereign.  It means believing that he hasn’t abandoned his redemptive purposes for this world.  It means looking for the ways in which God has given us both the gifts and the opportunities to get in on that work.

And it means believing that good citizens of heaven country make better citizens of this one.

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