I enjoy going on vacation, and sometimes, it doesn’t seem like we get enough time away. I like being able to set aside the to-do list and the responsibilities for a few days; on one vacation, the feeling of relief was so palpable that I nearly wept.
When our kids were young, vacation was supposed to mean fun and excitement. We’d plan an itinerary of all the sights to see and things to do. But now that they’re grown and it’s just my wife and I, vacations proceed at a much more relaxed pace: we amble along, taking in things that are beautiful or interesting, but not feeling compelled to have to do anything.
Funny thing, though: as much as I love getting away, it still feels like a blessing to come home.
The question is, Where is home, exactly?
Despite all the things that he’s suffered, the apostle Paul is a man who lives with supreme confidence, because he knows that his future is secure. To the Corinthians, he writes:
So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Cor 5:6-8, NRSV)
To be at home in the body is to be away from the Lord; far better to be away from the body and at home with the Lord (cf. also Phil 1:21-23). Paul’s not saying, of course, that we cannot experience the presence of God while we live in these mortal bodies of ours; that would be a contradiction of everything he teaches about the Holy Spirit and being “in Christ.”
When I read Paul’s words, I can’t help but think of the song we used to sing in our college Bible study:
This world is not my home —
I’m just a-passin’ through.
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me
From heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home
In this world anymore.
I always loved singing that song, if for no other reason that it gave me license to belt out some twangy harmony. But I remember wondering, even as I sang the words, whether I really believed them. It’s one thing to say that I don’t feel at home in this world when things are going poorly — but what about when life seems to be humming along, when I have the things I want?
“We would rather be away from the body,” Paul says. “We”? Perhaps he’s referring to himself and the other apostles. But even if this is so, it raises the very real question of whether I could say the same.
And if not, why not?