Searching for Home
“Here we are but straying pilgrims” goes one popular hymn. When I was young, singing this in church, I don’t know that I really believed it. I knew I was supposed to believe it, but the world in which I lived felt very much like home, and that I belonged. Lately, though, the feeling of being a pilgrim has been resonating with me. Perhaps you know the feeling?
All you have to do is read a few news stories, and you will inevitably come across something disheartening. You might read of a horrible crime that was committed, some awful tragedy that has befallen people, an event in politics that seems to upend peace and stability, or even perhaps an opinion piece that promotes wickedness as a public or moral good. It can make it feel like wickedness and sorrow are the primary emotions of the day. It can make you feel like you don’t belong. It can make you feel like you don’t belong in this world, like you’re a stranger in your own country.
“This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through,” another hymn goes. Perhaps we know that the world isn’t our home, and we’re going to the next. Our discomfort with the world, but also our desire to feel at home and at rest points to a realm in which we really belong. God “has placed eternity into man’s heart,” Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 3:11. We know we’re meant for more, but what do we do with the time we’re just a passing through?
I’ve recently been meditating on the life of Abraham as an example of how to live the pilgrim life. His life as a faithful pilgrim is summarized in Hebrews 11:8-10: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
There are a few things I’ve learned so far from this study.
God calls us to go, to be pilgrims in the world.
Sometimes it might feel like the solution to the growing corruption and alienation of the world is to withdraw. Perhaps you’ve fantasized (as I have on occasion) of just finding a deserted piece of land on the side of a mountain and just live out and away from the world? We think we might find safety in isolation, but that is not where God calls us to be.
Abraham was called out of Ur to go to a land that he did not know, a foreign land, and live among the people of that land. Similarly, we are called to “go out and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Whether we travel to another country to proclaim the gospel, or whether it is going out and interacting with our friends and family, we are going out into a strange and foreign land. We cannot avoid the world while we’re here, and in fact God calls us into the world that is not home.
Abraham lived in tents; always mindful this world was not his home.
Tents represented the transitory nature of Abraham’s existence, as well as that of his children. By living in tents, Abraham maintained a pilgrim mindset. You could contrast that with his nephew Lot. Lot began his life in Canaan in tents as well, but eventually we find him having settled in a house in Sodom (Genesis 19). Lot, while the Bible still asserts he was a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7), his settling in the world endangered him and his family. Lot just barely was able to escape destruction with his two daughters. His sons-in-law refused to leave, and Lot’s wife tarried and looked back at Sodom.
The temptation to settle into this world runs deep. We must remind ourselves and live in such a way that we remember that this world is not our home.
Abraham lived at peace as much as he could with his neighbors.
Abraham made trading deals, negotiated well rights, offered hospitality to strangers, and even fought when it necessitated the rescue of his nephew Lot. While Abraham lived in tents, and lived as a pilgrim, he still interacted with and lived at peace as much as was possible for him to.
We too are similarly commanded, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) Abraham’s neighbors were all the people of Canaan, not just the righteous ones. We too recognize that all people are our neighbors as well, and we are called to love them.
Abraham looked forward to a city with foundations, whose builder is God.
Abraham was promised many things by God, including a large nation living in the land where he was a sojourner. But Abraham never saw those come to fruition in his lifetime. The promises of God was not just to Abraham’s descendants, but also to Abraham himself. There would come a time when Abraham would no longer be a pilgrim, where Abraham would settle and live in a city with foundation, a place Abraham could call home.
It is a heavenly city. Its builder is God. And just like Abraham, we can look forward to an end to our pilgrimage. A place that will no longer feel strange. A place where there will be no more war or illness, no more wickedness or deceit. A place we can well and truly call home.