For forty years, the Israelites were homeless. They grumbled as Moses led them, oftentimes begrudgingly, through the wilderness. The deep and impenetrable darkness was all-consuming. Where was light? Where was the land of milk and honey? I can’t imagine that their eyes still sparkled with that flame of hope lit by their newfound freedom after a year or two. Is their sorrow so completely unwarranted?
I can’t speak for everyone reading this, but I think it’s fair to say that everyone, at some point or another, has felt that the conditions of this world were too severe to ever be redeemed. There is death, and pain, and sadness — there is loss great and small, on the personal, national, and international levels. Even those who do not claim Christ as their Savior recognize the suffering of this world as something evil, try as they might to explain it away. At some point, the explanations “death by natural causes” and “civil unrest” simply don’t cut it. You don’t have to be a Christian to know on some level that the world was not made to be like this.
A hot take: Death and injustice are not natural consequences of being human. If they were, we wouldn’t be so deeply grieved by them.
It is easy to be like the Israelites, try as we might to pretend we are better than them. We, too, are in a wilderness of sorts. The journey through the trees feels endless — it takes up our entire lives from the moment we are born again in Christ until we take our last breath. If the wilderness was all the Israelites had to look forward to, their grumbling and their desperate cries would be entirely logical. If the wilderness was all we had, I’d feel just as lost, just as directionless. But the wilderness is decidedly not all we have.
“For here,” says Hebrews 13:14, “we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (ESV). Peter urges us “as sojourners and exiles” to resist becoming integrated with the evils of this fallen world, the evils that “wage war against [our souls]” (1 Peter 2:11). We do this because our allegiance is to Christ, not to the world; our true citizenship lies in Heaven, and we wait for Jesus to “transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body” when he comes again (Phil. 3:20-21). We have a hope that cannot be dashed if we believe that this world is temporary.
We are not bound to this earth with chains. We have been set free from the bondage of sin, and now we wander through this world as exiles. And in this sense, being an exile is a wonderful thing — it means that this world is not our home. The Israelites pitched tents, not brick houses on cement foundations. And forty years, while it might be half of our lives, is but a moment to our great God.
Don’t get me wrong — it is entirely valid to mourn the tragedies that erupt all around us. The anger we feel in response to evil in the world — death, pain, injustice — is a righteous one. We know that this is not the way the world was meant to be, and it is good and right to cry out to the Lord to put an end to the suffering. But amidst our mourning, we can rejoice with the knowledge that there will come a day in which there will be no more crying or pain, and every tear shall be wiped away by our Beloved Savior (Rev. 21:4).
G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, recounts the arguments of a philosopher who claimed that Earth is the place we are meant to be — that the world as it is functions as our home. And yet Chesterton admits that, even when he chose to accept this philosophy, his soul was restless. Later, he learns a different perspective: “That he was in the wrong place.”
Upon coming to this conclusion, he recounts, “And my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring. The knowledge found out and illuminated forgotten chambers in the dark house of infancy.” When he realized that this world is not the one he was ultimately made for, Chesterton was full of unceasing joy, culminating in a glorious doxology. This is why we feel “homesick at home,” as he did: This world we often call our home is not our eternal resting place – our eternal resting place is in the arms of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21: 1-4)