A Better Country
Just in time for this year’s Fourth of July, I applied to become a citizen of this great country. After hundreds of pages of legal paperwork and evidence that my relationship with my lovely wife Amy is real, I will get to take the Oath of Allegiance as I become a proud American.
After five years of residing in the US, I’m still technically an “alien.” Even though my wife and I own a home in Winfield and a couple of old Toyotas, my lack of knowledge of some pop culture references, my accent, and sometimes my ethnicity gives away that I’m not from around here. The lack of mountains in the Northwest Indiana landscape and the absence of street food or warm weather all year round, makes me homesick sometimes. Oh, but when you go back to Ecuador to visit friends and family, that must feel like home! Not quite. While the snowcapped volcanos still surround the cities and the flavors of the local cuisine still tickle the taste buds in all the right places bringing a wave of wonderful memories, a lot has changed since I left. It’s not the same country anymore. If you’re a foreigner, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a nostalgia for something that will not be again.
I bet you probably feel the same in regard to America, your home state, or even Northwest Indiana. The gravel road you used to ride your bike on through corn fields is now paved, noisy, and surrounded with subdivisions of cookie-cutter homes. The people are not the same, the culture is not the same, and the food is not the same. You might even hear Spanish or another foreign language at the supermarket more and more often. In your heart, there’s a feeling of loss of something your mind knows will not be again.
However, I want to propose to you that this is not entirely a bad thing. Some of the most prominent Bible characters felt that way even in their best moments. It was the result of their relationship with God. In fact, I would even suggest that in order to live a faithful, God-glorifying life, you must consider yourself a foreigner and a stranger in America. This may sound unpatriotic, but allow me to explain.
We are foreigners
The life of faith is that of a stranger. Examples of this can be found in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
Beginning in Genesis, we see Abraham pleading with the sons of Heth for a grave for his wife. “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight” (Genesis 23:4 ESV). At the end of his life, Jacob said to Pharaoh in Egypt, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years” (Genesis 47:9). In Psalm 39, even King David, at the height of the nation of Israel, finds himself as foreigner. “Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers” (v. 12).
In the New Testament, Paul reminds us that “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20). Peter also says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
But perhaps my favorite of all New Testament passages on this topic is Hebrews 11:13-16,
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
So the point here is that the life of faith is the life of an exile, a sojourner, a refugee. The promises of God are our real home. If we have seen them from afar, greeted them, and tasted them, they should make us restless and uneasy. They should shape our whole way of seeing, thinking, and feeling. They should color all our values, goals, and desires. We should be put out of sync with this world because our treasure is in heaven. We shouldn’t feel 100% “at home,” even if we were born and raised in this city, state, or country.
Perhaps, during this most difficult year, as we celebrate the glories of this great nation on the Fourth of July, may the Lord cause our hearts to long for “a better country,” something even greater than America and its independence. Let us remember that this country and this world are not our ultimate and permanent home, “for He has prepared for [us] a city.” The imperfections of our earthly homelands are meant to make us long for the heavenly one. May the certainty that is given to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf grant us the hope that the best is yet to come.