“What’s happened to the world? It seems like everyone and everything has gone crazy. I feel so confused and out of place.”
Nearly everyone feels that way lately, at least some of the time. Things we once took for granted about our world have suddenly changed, leaving us stressed and confused. We wake up every day to stories of violence, racial tension, disease, natural disaster and political strife. Nothing feels stable. It’s enough to make the calmest among us feel rattled. We have no idea what might happen tomorrow, or next week, and we’re afraid to find out.
Not only is the future uncertain, but also it seems like our nation’s values are constantly changing. What was considered virtuous just a few years ago is now considered immoral or hateful. What was once considered evil is now lauded as brave and noble. If you’re looking at the world around you in order to find some sense of purpose, or even some sense of moral clarity, you will constantly find yourself in a state of confusion and anxiety. If you’re a follower of Jesus who has anchored your life to God’s word, you probably feel like a stranger in a very strange land right now. You have confidence in God, and in the purpose and direction he provides for your life, but it feels like very few people around you share your perspective. It’s not a stretch to say that many Christians feel spiritually, politically and culturally “homeless” right now.
We tend to view those feelings of homelessness as something we need to avoid or to fix. But what if God wants us to listen to those feelings instead? What if our sense of displacement is just the start of something powerful that God wants to do in our lives? When we feel out of place in this world, our first instinct is to try to find a tribe or a family or a country that we can wholeheartedly call our own. Think about your first few weeks in middle school, for example. You almost certainly searched desperately to find a group that would accept you. If the athletes didn’t accept you, maybe you joined the band kids. If they didn’t accept you, maybe you tried to join the smart kids. You wanted to get rid of your loneliness by finding your “tribe” as quickly as possible. As Christians, we often have the same instinct when it comes to our feelings of spiritual displacement. We look for a political party, or a Facebook group, or a neighborhood, or a set of friends who will accept us completely and agree with all of our values. In other words, we try to create our own little worlds, manmade kingdoms where we can fit in perfectly. The problem, of course, is that the worlds we create usually fracture and fall apart, leaving us in the same desperate place we were before.
Our other option, then, is to listen carefully to our feelings of spiritual homelessness and to recognize that we’re in very good company. Our spiritual ancestors experienced the same lonely struggle. Hebrews 11, that great “faith” chapter of the New Testament, talks about how the patriarch Abraham experienced his own feelings of spiritual homelessness. That’s somewhat ironic when you think about it: God promised Abraham that his descendants would have a beautiful land to call their own, but Abraham himself never got to enjoy it. He was never really at home in the promised land. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham lived out his days as “an alien in the land of promise.” He was the nation’s founder, but he was never a permanent resident. As a result, he spent his life in exile, always seeking a “better country” but never finding it. He simply had to trust that God would one day fulfill His promises, if not today, then someday in the distant future. Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham died without finding the home he was looking for, which seems like a depressing way to conclude a triumphant chapter about faith.
But the writer of Hebrews wasn’t just telling us a story about Abraham; he was telling us a story about God’s faithfulness to exiles like you and me. The point of Hebrews 11 is that our feelings of homelessness ought to change our perspective about where we can feel at home. Our feelings of spiritual homelessness should lead us to transfer our hope somewhere else. “But as it is,” Hebrews tells us, “[we] desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” Those of us who know Jesus live out our days waiting for God to fulfill his promise that a better country is on the way. One day, we will live with our God in a perfectly renewed world, where sin and death and war and famine and loneliness are distant memories. That’s not some pie-in-the-sky wish for religious people. It’s a solid promise, secured by the resurrection of Jesus. We aren’t home yet, but we will be soon.
So if we’re feeling out of place in this world, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Those feelings of exile can lead us to new depths of trust in God’s promises. They can help us untangle ourselves from trusting in the systems of this world. We no longer have to anchor our hope to the politics or culture or economic conditions of our present era. We no longer have to desperately search for a new earthly tribe to provide us security, nor do we need to create one. Instead we can do what the author of Hebrews urges. We can “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,” and we can place all of our hopes for security and belonging and a home in His hands. We do what Jesus himself did when he “endured the cross, despising the shame.” He placed his hope for the future in the Father’s hands, because he knew that his Father was faithful. We won’t always be in exile. We won’t always be displaced and homeless. Those of us who anchor our hopes to Jesus Christ will not be disappointed, because a better country is coming soon.