What do we mean when we use the word 'home'? Often we seem to mean dwelling or place, but surely a home is much more. My wife and I sold our house recently and sometimes say 'we sold our home'. But did we? Surely our home was more than the bricks and mortar and the land on which they stood. We are now living in a small apartment before moving to another house. It is nothing like our old house, and yet it feels like 'home'. We're happy being together with a small smattering of our possessions.
What makes this small apartment feel like home? Surely, in large part, that my wife and I together in this place. But what if you are the sole occupant? Is it still home? Can a person living alone be at home? Of course! So home must be more than a dwelling or cohabitation.
We also use the word 'home' to speak of our nation or 'land'. For Indigenous Australians connection with the land is something that leads them to speak of 'home country', a place associated with continuous occupation by their ancestors. Such places are intertwined with shared history and stories. Newcomers to any country can take time to feel at home, and immigrants can long for landscapes lost.
Travellers returning to their place of birth also speak of going home and mean more than just a place. Rather 'home' means nation, cultural identity, and connection with race and ethnicity. Separation from one's nation can cause alienation and a sense of loss. The Israelites experienced what it meant to be aliens and strangers at the hands of the Assyrians. The Psalmist wrote of their experiences:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? (Ps 137:1-4).
The longing of the Israelites is similar to the longing we have to be in a place where we can sing our own 'songs of joy' with those we love. But more than this, the foundation of this longing for home is rooted in our relationship to God. True 'home' as God planned it, is a place of opportunity for fellowship with him, and service that brings glory to him. It is also a place where we can know love, peace, kindness and grace, and in turn understand the need to share this with others.
This idea of longing for home is a key theme in this issue. Graeme Goldsworthy traces 'home' from Eden, through the wandering of exile, to the New Jerusalem, an eternal home unlike the transient and decaying dwelling of our world. Alison Payne explores the language of homesick- ness. This is a sense of disconnection, 'rootlessness', loss of shared cultural understanding, and a longing for common stories that bind us together. An echo of Eden lost, which one day will be restored.
This longing may account for the distorted ideas of home we find around us - if it could just be bigger, have polished floors, a pool - maybe then we would be satisfied. As Gordon Menzies and Susan Thorp remind us, a house can become an idol rather than a foretaste of heaven. At the other end of the spectrum, Michelle Waterford explains that the Australian housing crisis means that finding a place to live is an increasing problem for many people.
Internationally we also see thousands forced from their homes due to persecution, war and natural disaster. Those of us who live in safety and sufficiency have the opportunity to show hospitality to those in need. Erin Goheen Glanville examines the metaphor of 'hospitality' and calls for a refreshed understanding of the concept. Christians are to show hospitality to refugees. That is, as strangers we are to help strangers.
The Bible reminds us that while we can experience 'home' in this life, ultimately our true home is a heavenly one. In this life we may experience a sense of belonging in nations, places and homes - though many are denied even this - but our true 'citizenship' is in heaven (Phil 3:30). One day we will be fellow citizens with God's people in his heavenly household with Christ as the cornerstone (Eph 2:19-22). We will dwell together, bound by a love founded on and in Christ. This is an experience of belonging that passes understanding and can never be realised in our attempts to capture some sense of what it means to be at 'home' on earth.
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