(Image: Cleveland, Ohio)
Last week mega-star, LeBron James shocked the sports world by leaving the Miami Heat and returning home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. I was on vacation at the time, so my hotel TV was tuned in, for way too many hours, to Sportscenter. I was tracking this on Twitter and reading as many blogs as I could read without upsetting my non-sports-loving wife and my children.
LeBron announced his decision in a heartfelt letter published by the venerable magazine, Sports Illustrated. He expressed his devotion to the northeast Ohio area, how leaving and going to Miami cemented his love for home. To the greater Cleveland area, LeBron’s return is more than a free-agent signing by a sports team, it’s an unexpected boost for a region who has not only seen many decades of sports disappointment, but has suffered through economic depression and malaise. Rarely do people choose Cleveland over Miami. After drafting Johnny Manziel and landing the GOP Convention, residents of Ohio might be thinking their state is on the upswing.
But there was something about LeBron’s decision that made me think about our own longings for home. There is something about leaving the place you grew up, the place you love, that stirs the heart. I’m thinking about this as a transplanted Chicagoan now living in Nashville. The Chicago area was my home for all of my life up until recently. And while I thoroughly love Nashville and intend to live here as long as the Lord has me here, there is something about leaving home that calls you back.
LeBron compared his Miami years to years in college, where one finally breathes the air of freedom and independence, shaking off the boredom of one’s seemingly dreary childhood. A funny thing happens in those away years: the things we hated about home become treasured pieces of memorabilia in our minds.
I think this longing for home is innate, something God wired in us. Ever since Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden, we’ve been displaced, a bit uncomfortable wherever we are.
Sometimes this kind of longing is blurred by the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. We are good at scrubbing the negative detail from our memories, so we fantasize about how good things were in that particular season even if reality tells us a different story. Other times, the longing takes the form of utopianism, so we place our hopes in a program or pattern or movement that will finally make our world as we think it should be.
It’s interesting how Scripture speaks to our longings. The Bible tells us we’ve been kicked out of our original home, Eden, because of sin, but that genuine spiritual longing seeks a city whose “builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). In between we are exiles. Strangers in a strange city and strange land (1 Peter 2:11).
It’s important for Christians to locate their longings in Christ. By this, I don’t mean a kind of spiritual escapism, where we wait for Jesus to remove us from the sturm and drang of this world, but a vision of Christ’s kingdom, a kingdom that is both present and is also to come.
So on one hand we can sing, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin thru. My treasures are laid up, somewhere behind the blue” with honesty, knowing that the dominant world system led by the prince and power of the air—this is not the natural habitat for God’s people. And yet we can also say that we are home.
How is this? We’re home because in one sense, the world is corrupted by sin and yet we have the hope of Christ’s renewal and recreation made possible by his life, death, and resurrection.
So those longings for home remind us that the world is not as it should be, that we’re a long way from Eden. And yet those same longings are aspirations for the world as it will be, that New Jerusalem descending from Heaven. There’s a passage in John 14 where Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you. Some Greek scholars think this really should read, “I go to prepare a room for you.” I love this idea that Jesus is preparing a room, for me, in His house.
Sometimes the Church acts as if our deepest longings will be satisfied at the moment of salvation. But my experience, and Christian theology, tells us that the journey of faith is often met with unfilled expectations, doubt, and even shattered dreams. Knowing Jesus gives us a taste of Heaven on earth, but until we are fully sanctified, when we see Jesus face to face, will we find complete and full contentment and rest. We should be careful not to sell something Jesus never promised to Christian exiles: instant victory and immediate gratification.
The world is full of unfulfilled longing. Many seek to satiate these desires by medication, meditation, or misplaced hopes. Only Jesus’ promise of restoration and renewal, beginning now and consummated at His return, will gives us the satisfaction of finally being home.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). He is a regular contributor to Leadership Journal and the author of several books, including his latest, Activist Faith. He regularly blogs at danieldarling.com. You can follow him on Twitter @DanDarling.