Leaving Salem

This past summer friends of mine sent their eight-year-old daughter to camp. This camp was a primitive affair with lodges, sleeping bags, and creatures of the night. Conspicuously absent were all the comforts of home. Air conditioning, television, soft mattresses, beloved pets, video games, fast-food: Not here. This was the roughing-it world of swarming bugs, cold showers, drill-instructor-camp-counselors, and homesickness. Terrible homesickness.

My friends’ nostalgic daughter mailed home a letter worthy of comparison to “Greetings from Camp Hiawatha.” It did not begin with, “Hello Mother, hello Father…” No, she cut to the chase: “I wish I was home with you.” The letter, a mere two dozen words, made inquiry about her pet cat and best friend and eloquently concluded, “These tents are hotter than hell at night.” Now there’s a child longing for home. But aren’t we all longing for home? The Teacher of the Old Testament wrote, God “has planted eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Inside each of us the Creator has placed a sort of homing device. The coordinates are preprogrammed. Our destination – called heaven or nirvana or swarga or paradise – is a return to the God who made us, for only there are our souls truly at home. The extraordinary conclusion of the Christian Scriptures is the apocalyptic book of Revelation. While much of the book is perplexing, not all of it is so. Revelation 21 paints a beautiful picture of the future heavens and earth. It is a place where there will be no more tears, no more death, no more crying or pain.

There will be no more cold camp showers, no more miserable sleepless nights, no more homesickness. The earth and heaven will be re-created, made new. The universe will be washed clean of all that is wrong with it. And it will be a place that we will call home with the God who made us. The writer of the book of Revelation does not invent this scene or these words. Largely he is quoting the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament who a millennia before prophesied the same thing.

The prophets envisioned a world where everything – everything – that is now wrong will be made right. It will be made the way God first made things, when he looked out on his creation and said, “This is very good.” This good world that we will call home will have no more kids with cancer. There will be no more looting of the earth’s resources. There will be no more broken relationships or failures to forgive. There will be no more government corruption or religious hypocrites.

I will rejoice over the demise of all funeral homes and hospitals. I will celebrate the closure of all courts and police forces. I will cheer with you as the doors are locked on all soup kitchens, all psychiatrists’ offices, all environmental protection agencies, and all military installations. Why will such organizations go out of business? Because their services will no longer be needed: Everything will be put back into place. Of course this all sounds well and good: Perfection, justice, wholeness, a brave new world, all this waiting on some far away horizon. But isn’t this a bit like trying to explain the joys of college and career to a kindergartner?

Isn’t this like telling an eight-year-old that she can survive two weeks of camp without electricity? Relief and home are so far away. Isn’t this little more than a teasing mirage in the distance? No, it is not. If I believe anything at all, I believe the promises of God; that while the world certainly appears to be one long, hellacious night, the cool of morning is coming. Like campers sweating it out in the darkness, we wait for the new creation of God to shine forth.

Yet, we are not merely marking time. We live with the hope of eternity always before us. We live, no matter the sufferings or injustices we face, knowing that we are just passing through on our journey, aliens and strangers in a strange land. Somehow, all of creation – the heavens and the earth, human beings, all that is – is in process. It is moving toward the destination of renewal and redemption. It is moving toward home, a home where everything will be as it should.

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