A deep-set longing for Home comes from God and leads to an imperishable Home. And this longing grows as we move closer to seeing Him in full.
By Amy Baik Lee
“Homeward longing” is the name I’ve quietly given for personal reference to the ache that is the intersection where sehnsucht (what Corbin Carnell describes as “the particular attitude which is characterized by a sense of separation from what is desired, a ceaseless longing which points always beyond”) meets the Christian view of reality.
The narrative centered around the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is still the most comprehensive explanation I’ve found for the root and the intensity of my yearning. It confesses that there was a great breakage in the past between humankind and its Maker, with shattering echoes that stretch into the present, but it also offers a new beginning through the Person and the redemptive sacrifice of the Son of God. It reveals that we dwell in the great promise of a coming restoration.
“We all long for [Eden], and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile,’” J. R. R. Tolkien once wrote to his son Christopher. The whole progress of humankind is rife with this sense of separation, beginning with the first twinges of willful distrust within the first man and woman, coursing down to the inner stirrings of my own heart here in the twenty-first century.“We all long for [Eden], and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile.’” — J.R.R. Tolkien Click To Tweet
The exilic longing
Looking over the span of Scripture, Tim Keller saw the same theme: “It is no coincidence that story after story contains the pattern of exile. The message of the Bible is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home.” Following this thread through, Keller noted that when the way of homecoming was opened for this “band,” it came at an unfathomable cost:
Jesus had not come to simply deliver one nation from political oppression but to save all of us from sin, evil, and death itself. He came to bring the human race Home. Therefore he did not come in strength but in weakness. He came and experienced the exile that we deserved. He was expelled from the presence of the Father, he was thrust into the darkness, the uttermost despair of spiritual alienation — in our place. He took upon himself the full curse of human rebellion, cosmic homelessness, so that we could be welcomed into our true home.
In other words, the owner of the Home I seek became an exile in my place. He was pierced for my transgressions and crushed for my iniquities (Isaiah 53:5), that I might enter into his family as a daughter, an heir jubilantly expected at Home.
On some days, I still find it astounding that the exilic yearning itself is not a helpless diagnosis with a terminal end. Why shouldn’t it be the end of the story? What kind of grace is this, that Christ has not only redeemed me but embedded a shard of unsettledness within me so that I would look for its source?
The hope of Home
Owe Wikström, a Swedish theologian and professor of religious psychology, tells of a conversation he once struck up with an American priest in Paris. The priest himself was a former neurochemist and art gallery owner, no stranger to “the fundamental feeling of being lost,” and he lit his pipe as he exhaled his views:
The anxiety that comes with life’s crises cannot be reduced to sentimentality or regressive tendencies. It is a real feeling, just as tangible as the longing for one’s lover or children — who have gone away for a while — is a witness to the fact that they actually exist. The longing is a sign that the other exists. It is the same thing here. The longing is a consequence of man’s search for meaning, his ontological thirst. Outside Eden man has become disorientated. Therefore, that which from a human perspective seems in the beginning to be a general state of melancholy or fear of death and from a normal point of view can be interpreted as ‘a search for meaning,’ is in fact God’s own action on the human heart.
The priest’s pilgrimage arose from his search for meaning, but he highlights a peculiar point of grace that I recognize from my own first brush with Joy in the meadow: Before I knew God, incredibly, He called to me. Christ’s choice to lay His life down so that we strangers and exiles might in the end arrive home to Him — this is news from which I hope to never recover. But His initiative in giving us hearts that thirst for and tug us toward the glimmers of the place He has prepared, that we might draw closer to Him day by day — the love in this staggers me to no end.“I believe this deep-set longing in the soul comes from God, and that it leads to an imperishable Home.” — Amy Baik Lee Click To Tweet
A growing longing for home
And so, my old longing hasn’t faded. Is it surprising that it has stayed? I’ve found that approximate descriptions of sehnsucht are sometimes met with knowing nods among believers. “You’re homesick for heaven. The answer you’re searching for is Jesus, of course.” Case closed.
But to me this is a bit like saying, “Ah, so you’ve discovered brilliant dashes of colored light scattered across your living room. It’s quite simple: those are rainbows.” So they are, and I sometimes pause to watch a scattered cloud of these tiny, many-hued stars as they cross my walls in the spring and summer afternoons.
Rainbows they are, indeed. But I have further questions for such a pragmatic speaker. Have you ever stopped to consider the combination of factors necessary to bring them into being? Have you seen the wild weaving whirl they make when the prism in the window spins? Can we set them dancing on a cloudy day? What does it say about our perception that light holds so many visible and invisible shades, and who first imagined such an arresting sight, and what does this reveal about the bearer of that imagination, and can we expect more displays of profligate beauty? What does this abundance indicate about the heart of such a Maker?
In short: yes, I believe this deep-set longing in the soul comes from God, and that it leads to an imperishable Home. Yet all the surprises I’ve seen since I met Him — the keen shots of delight and solace and startling help — have pierced me more, not less, as I move closer to seeing Him in full.
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Amy Baik Lee
This article was excerpted with permission from “This Homeward Ache” (B&H Publishing, 2023).