This World Is (Not) My Home
Judging from the content pouring through my various social media feeds (and from my wife’s enthusiastic exhortation to go get a free Starbucks coffee!), today is Earth Day. Another day devoted to building awareness, promoting responsibility, and broadening horizons. I wonder if we are soon going to run out of calendar space for all of the special “days” that join the fray each year, but I am of course happy to affirm Earth Day and all it represents.
Well, most of what it represents, anyway. I did not encounter a robust theology of the created world until I was well into my twenties, and I remember initially seizing upon it with great delight. How refreshing, I thought, to have a more expansive perspective than the “evacuation theology” that seemed to be in the air in the church circles I grew up in. How liberating to have the freedom to think that God was interested in redeeming all that he had made, rather than just sucking souls up into heaven after their handful of decades (or less) on earth. How delightful to anticipate “new creation” rather than some kind of an immaterial “heaven” where my disembodied soul would float around for eternity. How wonderful to be able to join hands with those from a wide variety of ideological perspectives in stewarding the world of which we are all a part.
And I still feel this way, for the most part. But even as I was encountering these ideas for the first time, I recall thinking, “this is all fine and good, but it seems like a theological perspective carefully crafted for/by those whose experience of the physical world is a largely positive one.” It’s relatively easy to affirm the goodness and value of creation while living on the beautiful west coast of Canada (as I was at the time) with majestic rainforests and beautiful ocean views and beaches and mountains and abundant diversity all around. But what about sandblasted, sun-scorched lands that refuse to yield their fruit in season? What about the barren places, the unattractive places, the harsh and unforgiving places, the places where the wealthy and the privileged will never have to live?
And, of course, these questions extend far beyond geography. A theology that emphasizes the value of this world is, it seems to me, far easier to embrace for those whose experience of this life is mostly comfortable, peaceful, and full of opportunity. It is a theology virtually tailor-made for postmodern, post-Christian Westerners. Not only does it lend value to what we value, it has the happy side-benefit of allowing those who are perhaps a bit squeamish about some of Christianity’s more difficult and irreducibly personal truth claims, to turn their gaze upon on more culturally palatable fare.
When I was in grad school, we sometimes mockingly pointed to a song called “This World is Not My Home” as symptomatic of everything that was wrong with evangelical theology. And it must be acknowledged that the song contains some pretty abysmal lyrics. But I’m thinking of one line in particular on this Earth Day 2015:
I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
I’m thinking about this line through a couple of lenses.
I am thinking of a friend who is walking with their spouse through a very dark valley. A cancer diagnosis, an uncertain future, a present containing sadness, tears, longing. They are praying for redemption, for hope, for a future. They are undoubtedly ultimately looking ahead to a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21). But I am guessing that right about now they are experiencing “this world” not as a delight, but as an open wound. They are looking forward to a different mode of existence.
I am thinking of teenagers and young adults I have known, past and present, who always struggled to fit in. I am thinking about how early “this world” schools human beings in the lesson that some people “belong” and some do not, that if you don’t look a certain way, that if you’re not good at certain things, then you are worth less than others. My heart aches for them. I grieve that such young and tender lives should ever come to the conclusion that “this world” is not for them.
I’m thinking of the Syrian refugees that our church is taking steps toward sponsoring to come to our city. It will likely be one or two families. A dozen people perhaps? In a sea of millions of displaced, homeless, heartsick human beings. Women, children, men. Young, old. Many people whose only experience of “this world” has been brutal oppression, struggle, poverty, and lack. And, of course, Syria is only one place among many in “this world” where human life is cheap, where suffering is abundant, where people’s primary experience is often one of abandonment and hopelessness.
I am glad that there is such a thing as Earth Day. Truly, I am. I really do think that creation care is a vitally important part of Christian faith. I think that we must pursue ways of being in the world that are less burdensome to the planet, that use resources more responsibly. It is imperative that we do so, particularly for the many vulnerable people who are affected by the greedy and acquisitive habits of the rich and the powerful. I just wonder, sometimes, about how our cultural location affects the theologies and ideologies that we embrace and, perhaps more importantly, how we embrace/espouse them.
This world is not my home. This world is my home. It seems to me that, from a Christian perspective, we must always find ways to affirm both.