After a long week of moving, I found myself camped out on the couch watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I quickly became engrossed in the story of a veteran with PTSD who needed a more sound-proof home. He’d been living apart from his family for over a year in a mental health facility because their house was next to a railroad and the loud, unexpected noises of his neighborhood had triggered several dangerous episodes.
The designers and builders worked with hundreds of volunteers to create a beautiful dream home that seemed to solve all of the families problems and ensure a happily-ever-after ending. At the big “reveal,” the hosts of the show kept emphasizing how important it was to finally bring this soldier home to live with his family.
It is a satisfying thing to come home, something we are appreciative of as we get settled into our first house. We are glad to be done with moving from rental to rental and able to put down roots in a more permanent dwelling. As Christians, though, we realize that no matter where we live, this earthly home is nothing more than a campsite compared to our eternal dwelling place. Paul, himself a tentmaker, calls our earthly bodies tents (2 Cor. 5:4): temporary, mortal structures which can be cumbersome and painful. He acknowledges that living in these earthly tents causes us to groan and sigh, because we long for the eternal, immortal dwellings that will swallow up our earthly bodies.
The Israelites who left Egypt with Moses knew firsthand about the burdensome nature of tents after participating in the world’s largest camping trip. As we all know, they followed the presence of the Lord through the desert for forty years. Whenever the cloud of the Lord moved forward, they packed up all their belongings and rolled up their tents to follow the presence of the Lord until He rested again. When they weren’t tearing down, hauling around, or setting up their tents, they were trying to eke out a living in the desert. To make a long story short, they did a lot of grumbling during this time.
But even before they reached the promised land, God wanted to make sure they would never forget this miserable period of wandering. He ordained a festival of booths, a seven day festival when Israelites would build temporary dwellings and live in them (Lev. 23:43)–not so they would revive their habit of grumbling about their immediate circumstances, but so that they would remember God’s provision during that time of camping. Perhaps the words of Psalm 107:4-9 or Psalm 84 came to mind as they camped in their booths remembering and appreciating how their ancestors came to inherit the promised land. Though we do not traditionally celebrate these Jewish festivals, it is good to remember that we, too, are pilgrims here on earth and that our earthly homes are only temporary compared to the eternal dwelling place that awaits us in heaven.
I’m not going to pretend that a decade of annual moves is comparable to a lifetime of wandering in tents. But I know something of what it is to long for a home and I feel a sense of relief to have found a permanent home. Even still, I hope I can live like the exiles in Jeremiah 29, who built houses, planted gardens, married and had children–putting down roots and fully living in the present despite the fact that they were only temporary residents. I want to fully live here but not forget that there is a better home waiting for me. I hope that I can continue to long for my true home: a home that is already paid in full, a home that will survive even when the earth “wears out like a garment” (Isaiah 51:6), a home that makes any house–even the customized mansions on Extreme Makeover–look like nothing more than a tent.