To come of age—at least in our family—means earning the right to watch The Wizard of Oz. (Isn't a certain degree of maturity required for facing those evil monkeys?) The film adaptation of L. Frank Baum's novel is a classic story about the search for home. Dorothy and her dog Toto follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City where they count on the Wizard of Oz to help them find their way back to Kansas.
Some scholars tell us that all literature can be reduced to this essential storyline: home has been lost, and men and women go search for it. The plot of one of Western literature's oldest stories—Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey—is the search for home. The journey or quest motif is at the heart of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Even contemporary novelist Michael Chabon describes the ache of lost connection that underlies all his novels: "Nostalgia is a valid, honorable, ancient emotion … I [have] always felt a kind of lack, a wistfulness, a sense of having missed something." To be human is to long for home.
Our Home in Creation
The Bible, of course, tells us why. In the beginning, humanity had a home. As we read in Genesis 1, God labored six days to create a world that suited human guests. As the curtain closes on each of those days, God commends the work as "good." Except one. When the sky is formed God withholds commendation. Why, we might ask, was the sky not good in the same way as other elements of creation?
One theory is that the sky, unlike the sun and the dry land, the moon and the fish, didn't contribute to the world's habitability. In other words, when God calls creation "good," God doesn't just mean beautiful. God means homelike. This is to say that God's creative work of Genesis 1 and 2 is motivated by hospitality. God is looking to keep company with us. And this is exactly the cosmic shock of the Genesis creation narratives, especially when compared to other ancient creation accounts. Love—not violence—pulses at the heart of the universe.
God's Home in Creation
But humanity's first home, however wonderfully habitable God made it, was meant as more than a place where we could live happily ever after with each other. The Genesis creation account culminates in God resting, and rest is an activity that, in other ancient texts, always takes place in the deity's temple. Could creation be God's temple? God labors six days and rests on the seventh—not because, like us, God has a body that is wearied by work. No, God rests to signify God's enthronement in creation. God's rest signals God's rightful rule. Seen in this light, the world is not simply a home for humanity: it is also a home for God.
The Loss of Home
Tragically, the bulk of Scripture doesn't witness the happily-ever-after of home—because Genesis 3 introduces a theme with which all of humanity has been painfully familiar: exile. Adam and Eve are cast out of the garden. This exile isn't only geographical; our human parents didn't simply lose place. They also lost unmediated access to God: they were banished from God's presence—set, like every human since, in search of home. In this way, the story of Scripture explains not just our deep and visceral longing for home, but our aching sense of dislocation and alienation.
Home as Place and Presence
Understanding these dual dimensions of home (home as place, home as presence) helps us avoid two common misunderstandings. First, when we are tempted to read verses like "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Colossians 3:2) as saying we shouldn't care about the material world, we do well to remember that temporal history culminates, not with the disposal of creation, but its redemption. The material world isn't done away with at the end of time. It is renovated. The new Jerusalem will come down from heaven, and we will, once again, have home as glorious, perfect place (Revelation 21:1-5). On the other hand, we won't only have home as material dwelling place. Most importantly, home will be a dwelling place with God. In other words, home is never home unless God is there, too.
Dorothy was right about this: according to the Scriptures, there's really no place like home.
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