One week from today, I will be moving to Minnesota to start a new job. This is an exciting and terrifying thing.
Packing and organizing all of my things, however, is only terrifying. And also extremely boring and not rewarding at all for someone who hates details and planning with a passion usually reserved for rodents and parasitic insects.
|Boxes, Part 1. Did I know I had this much stuff? No. No, I did not.|
So, what’s a disorganized person to do? Think about theology while folding T-shirts and getting rid of old scrapbooking supplies, of course. So, I present for your consideration: Moving Van Theology. It’s what’s kept me sane over the past few days.
Hebrews 11 has been my favorite chapter of the Bible since I was old enough to decide that I needed a favorite chapter of the Bible (probably in my slightly-self-righteous sixth grader phase). My logic went (and goes) something like this: it has stories, and stories are great.
There are a few verses in the middle of the chapter that always seemed strange to me, though. They form a beautifully melancholy interlude, like someone decided to throw a bridge in a minor key into some peppy little pop song. (Someone please tell me you just inserted a movement of “Moonlight Sonata” after the chorus of “Call Me Maybe.” No? Just me? Darn.)
Anyway, this is what Hebrews 11:13 says: “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.”
Wait, hold up. They did get what they were promised…didn’t they? Noah saw the rain come, justifying the crazy build-a-boat-in-the-desert scheme that had been his reality for decades. Abraham and Sarah were changing diapers at the age most people are checking into a retirement home. Moses eventually left a ruined, plague-broken Egypt behind him without even an “I told you so” to Pharaoh. The walls fell, the armies fled, the lions decided it wasn’t time for dinner after all. Victory and vindication arrived at long last.
All those things are true, but according to the author of Hebrews, the people involved were still waiting.
So, um…for what? Seriously, God did all the things, usually pretty dramatically.
Verses 14-16 explain a little bit more. “For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”
And then…wait for it…good news! “Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
All of those Old Testament guys were waiting for the same thing I am: all of the promises fulfilled, an end to wandering, a city that feels like home.
That city was not Upland, and it is not Minneapolis, just like it wasn’t Ur, Goshen, Bethlehem, or even Jerusalem. That city is the New Jerusalem, and it’s not here yet.
There are times when I’ve decided that, yep, the new heavens and the new earth will be exactly like this. I rewrite Hebrews 11:16 as, “God has prepared a small group for me where we all connect despite our differences,” or “God has prepared an apartment for me with wonderful women who encourage each other” or “God has prepared Gerig Hall for me where I am welcomed into the family” or “God has prepared a church for me where I can serve and share my life with others.”
But then stress and gossip and a hundred other daily little faults and failings come in and mess things up. Other people react in stupid ways to stupid arguments, no one cares about the right things, everyone ignores the left out and the lonely, and I notice all of these things without acknowledging that I do them myself. And I realize that I’m still seeking a homeland.
We can rejoice in the blessings and answered prayers we receive from God and still be waiting. It’s kind of a tradition in our faith. Look at all of the weary saints and battered souls trying to take just one step closer—Christians with sleepless nights, unanswered questions, and secret fears. They knew they were missing something, something we hadn’t really had since the Fall. I wait with them.
I wait for a day when I won’t crave other’s approval or fear disappointing them, when I can serve without selfish motives, when I can really mean those half-whispered prayers of faith that don’t always reach my emotions.
I wait for a place where relationships with others are perfect, where broken things are restored and put out of reach of our tendency—accidental and spiteful—to destroy. Misunderstandings, grudges, lingering regrets, unrequited love, resentment: all gone.
I wait for a homeland, where boxes are unpacked forever and there will be stability and peace and a throbbing certainty that this was what I was missing all along.
I wait in hope. And hope does not disappoint.
Also relevant: Audrey Assad’s song “I Shall Not Want.” I’m trying to figure out some way to incorporate these lyrics into my apartment decorations. Because they are beautiful, and also fit really well with my life at this point.