This world is (not) my home

Anybody remember this song?

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.

When I was started college, I was a new Christian participating in a campus ministry. The students would gather every Wednesday night for Bible study. This was one of the songs we sang regularly. It had a rollicking, country-western tempo; I remember purposely creating and singing a twangy harmony that made the song more fun.

But looking back, I realize that I had absolutely no clue what I was singing. Truth be told, I felt very much at home in this world back then, and heaven was but an airy abstraction. That’s less true today. Still, it’s not as if heaven is more real to me than this earthly life and all its entanglements.

I was reminded of this earlier this year as devastating wildfires swept through Northern California, taking lives and destroying thousands of homes and businesses. My own childhood home had been levelled by fire in the early 90s. Though neither I nor any of my family were living there at the time, I remember the eerie sense of loss that swept over me as I visited the ruins. It was all gone. The room where I had played, slept, and dreamed as a child. The fence I had built as a teenager, reduced to nothing but a few scorched lag bolts protruding from the cement. My mother’s freezer, now a useless, twisted hunk of metal, fallen into the basement because there was no longer a floor to hold it up. Somehow, I had taken for granted that the house would always be there, even if I didn’t live there anymore. Having it rudely, decisively erased from existence was a wake-up call.

It’s worth asking ourselves how “at home” we are in this world, for the Bible sometimes uses the imagery of our being exiles and sojourners. What is the hope of heaven? Is it really hope?

Imagine, for example, being in the room with Jesus as one of his disciples during the Last Supper. You’ve given up everything to follow him, and now he’s telling you that he’s leaving, and you can’t go with him. Worse, he’s saying that one of you is going to betray him. And even worse still, he’s predicting that stalwart Peter is going to deny his Master not once, but three times, and all before the night is through. Why? What’s going to happen? And if even Peter the Rock can fail that spectacularly, what does that mean for the rest of you?

Understandably, the disciples are deeply troubled by all this. Deeply. So Jesus gives them these words of encouragement:

Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too.  (John 14:1-3, CEB)

Here’s the question: if you had been one of the disciples that evening — indeed, if you had been Peter! — would those words have been of comfort to you?

I doubt that they would have been comforting to me, at least not right that moment. And apparently, as we’ll see, they didn’t do much to calm the disciples either.

“Don’t be troubled,” Jesus says, to a group of men who have become very much at home with him and with the world they had hoped he would create, a world without Roman oppression, a world in which God’s people would retake the land that was rightfully theirs. Jesus is pointing them to something grander. But they will need help to see it, as do we.

More on that in the next post.