The name of my blog is the “Pilgrim’s Rest Stop.” I chose this title as an allusion to the great epic by John Bunyan, “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Like Bunyan I think the Christian life is a pilgrimage, an exciting adventure with a glorious conclusion. I am not saying this because it is a lovely romantic notion but this has been the case in my personal experience. More importantly I think the Bible has this view of a pilgrimage in mind, not as a stale ritual, but as a powerful story of hope.
God called our spiritual father Abraham out of Mesopotamia to a new divine homeland in Palestine. The concept of a holy pilgrimage to worship God in his own land as his own people is very powerful image that pervades the Scriptures. Hebrews describes Abraham as looking for a city whose builder was God. When the apostle Peter was writing his epistles the Jewish people were hoping that there fractured nation would be made whole (1 Peter 1:1.) Israel was looking for the return of their brethren from the Diaspora as a sign of the faithfulness of God to Abraham their father. In a sense this metaphor of the Jewish exile can be extended to Christians, the New People of God. If there is a place we ought to be, and we are not there yet, there are questions we must ask. We simply cannot plod on unconcerned hence the idea for this blog, a place where we can make sure we’ve got out bearings straight.
This world is not my home I’m just a-passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The words of the popular country song sums up the eschatology (what we think the end looks like) of most Christians. Like John Bunyan our destination in many minds is the Celestial City to which we march ever upwards. This theme is endemic in Christian thought and it is expressed by bumpers stickers, multimillion dollar films and fiery sermons about avoiding hell. Though I owe Mr. Bunyan the title of this blog I believe the pilgrim is yet to reach his true destination.
In my last piece “The Right Side of the Cross” I sought to demonstrate Christianity is not centred on the cross but the resurrection. Here I want to show heaven as well is not the focus. I genuinely think Christians need this red-shift in their world view to see the plan of God is far greater than the wonders of heaven.
To understand this pilgrimage we need to revisit the story of Father Abraham, the first true pilgrim in the scriptures. The author of Hebrews summarizes it saying,
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV
The promise of God to Abraham was for a terrestrial, not a celestial, land. If in the end God took Abraham, or his offspring, to heaven he would not have been faithful to Abraham. The tenth verse, which is often interpreted to mean heaven, rather means the earthly City of God. Abraham was looking forward to being a part of the Kingdom of God right here on earth. God created man on earth because it has always been his intention to dwell among human beings here.
In Mad Max: Fury Road (an action movie I particular like) the world is a desolate unforgiving wasteland. This vision of the future is a common theme in the cinematic world. The world is filled with so much suffering and turmoil and predictions regarding tomorrow look grim. It’s quite understandable why people want to escape to the heavens either to a spiritual place or like Elon Musk to colonise a new planet altogether. God has however not forsaken the world and he will restore it as a new creation. This is not a fanciful religious promise. He has given us assurance by raising Jesus Christ from dead. The world has a living hope in Jesus.
The divine destiny of humankind is intimately linked to the earth. The Scriptures promise us God will make his dwelling right among us.
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.
Revelation 21:10-11 NKJ
In the end it is not about the pilgrim moving up to the Celestial City but rather the Celestial City coming down on earth.