I have never felt this need that many Christians have to be assured that they are saved, that they already have their places reserved in the Kingdom of heaven. It’s counting your chickens before they’re hatched. It’s too static and allows no room for growth or change. I’d rather think of the Christian life as a pilgrimage … a process of coming home to God through all the ups and downs of life. Yet through it all of being embaced by Jesus.
Far more important to me, is the seeking of the Kingdom of God, our true home.
The author of the Book of Hebrews has it rightly – “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
The Bible, both the New Testament and the Old is riddled with the language of home, but flooded with the experience of exile.
“For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” (Hebrews 13:14.)
Every Eucharist is a seeking of the Kingdom as the bread is broken and the wine outpoured to assuage our thirst.
The Biblical paradigm of the man, or woman, of God, is of one who has no soil on which to stand and only the Lord’s unchanging nature to cling to. We see this paradigm embodied again and again from the expulsion of Adam and Eve onwards, in Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Jeremiah, Ezekiel right through to John the Seer on the Island of Patmos. Home is where the Lord is, which if it means everywhere also means nowhere, for there is no specific place to lay your head that is in itself the fixed and permanent right place as Jesus reminds us.
And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Never is this saying of Our Lord than in the Martyrdom of St Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles. We are shown the battered and torn body of Stephen whose earthly exile is dramatically shown forth in the stones that furiously rain down upon him. The message of those stones is that there is no place for him in this world, and no place for those like him.
In his martyrdom Stephen gives us a glimpse of the paradigmatic biblical human being.
It is precisely in this terrible and cruel experience of expulsion that he looks up to heaven, full of the Holy Spirit and sees the Glory of God embracing him. Cast out of the earthly city, he is conformed to Christ, who is his true home. Christ is with him and he is with Christ. In all the riot, confusion, commotion and anger his gaze is described as steadfast. He is able to dwell on the unchanging vision of God.
“Behold I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. (Acts 7:56.)
Far more important to me than any feeling that I’m saved, that I’ve arrived, is the awareness that in all my trials and temptations, of which there are many, that I am embraced by God and that I must cling to him, if only to his garment. Not letting go is far more vital than thinking I’m already there. Life is uncertain.
One of my favourite Psalms is 27.
“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life , to behold the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)