God is a Place
By Rev. Dr. Fritz Ritsch
Jan 19, 2020
John the Baptist calls Jesus “The Lamb of God” right in front of two of his own disciples. They are no doubt blown away that their teacher would be so deferential to another person, and so immediately decide to follow Jesus—in this case, literally, as in, like pick-pockets following their mark or bobby soxers following Frank Sinatra.
Jesus turns, perhaps exasperated, and says to them, “What are you looking for?”
They are embarrassed, caught off-guard. They themselves aren’t exactly sure what they’re looking for. And so they stumble and fumble and finally say, “Teacher, show us where you’re staying.”
And then they are probably internally calling themselves dummies because that wasn’t what they meant to say! That wasn’t the question they wanted answered! But what they wanted to say, the question they wanted answered, they couldn’t, at least at that moment, be put into words. So, instead they ask him to show them his room.
I remember when I was a kid, it was so exciting to invite another friend over to my house. The first thing I’d say was, “Come see my room!” Because that’s where all my secrets were. I had my shelf with all the rocks I’d collected, and the geology lab set I had on my table. I had the pictures I’d drawn and the models I’d made and my comic books and my GI Joes and they were all in my room.
My favorite stuffed bear Winnie the Pooh was there. I wanted to get my friends away from my parents and sister and be interested in me, the real me; and the place to do that was my room. If they liked my room, they liked me.
I bet that these embarrassed disciples of John, who were about to become disciples of Jesus, were unconsciously thinking something like that. They wanted to see who Jesus really was. Asking to see where he was staying was a round-about way of asking him to show them who he was.
But it may have reflected a still deeper question. There is something in human nature that is always homesick for a place we have never been. You know the feeling—even when you are at the place you think of as most your home, you feel like this still isn’t it. There’s someplace else, perhaps a place you only visit in dreams, if at all. Home reminds you of that place, but it’s not quite it.
In Plato’s Republic, the Greek philosopher Socrates gives us the allegory of the cave. It is as if we are prisoners in a cave, he said, and all we see of the real world are the shadows of it that are cast on the wall of the cave. Our world is a reflection of the real world, and all we see of that real world are the shadows.
Christians have taken that old pagan metaphor and made it to mean that this world in which we live is just a shadow of the true world we will see in its fullness when we enter the Kingdom of heaven. And so our home on this earth is a just a shadow of the true home that we have in Christ.
At some level, I think that’s what these first followers of Jesus are asking him: show us your home, Jesus, and you are showing us our true home.
I was recently re-reading a favorite spiritual author, Kathleen Norris, and was drawn up short by this almost throw-away comment that she makes in her book Cloister Walk: “…The words of Psalm 46–‘God is within, it cannot be shaken’–suddenly revealed God to me as a place, both without and within.”
This idea of God as a place makes sense to me. Norris makes this comment in the context of talking about our sense of calling from God. My own calling from God came when I was a teenager. My home was difficult and troubled and like all teens I was troubled and probably also difficult. That sense of alienation made me feel a sense of otherness, of alienation from my own home and also from the world around me. At that time, I became a Christian, and for the first time I felt like I had a home. I was called by God, redeemed by Christ. My alienation from the world made sense because I didn’t belong to this world. I belonged to God. God was my home.
All that was over-simplified, of course, and more than a little self-serving, in the way that all teenagers see everything as about themselves. Nonetheless, what I felt then had truth in it. We often talk of God as being in us, and that’s true. But God is also a place. God is a gracious world that we get to live in. When I was younger, and still sometimes now, God is a place I can escape to, when the world gets too much for me or when I need a place to nurse my wounds.
In that sense God is a sanctuary, a safe haven, the place where it is truest that “home is the place where they have to take you in.” That’s the meaning of grace, of course: it means that God is the place where, no matter who you are or what you’ve done, they have to take you in. If you know that God is the home that you have no choice but to run to, then God really is your home, and no matter what, God welcomes you there.
The Apostle Paul understood that God is a place. Paul taught that we could live either in sin or in grace. Sin isn’t a list of bad things or being a bad person. Sin is a state of being: it is alienation or separation from God. Grace is also a state of being—a state of being in which we have union with God through Jesus Christ. A good way to think of them is as homes in which we live. In the home of sin, then we aren’t close to God, and we view the world in which we live through that lens. Again, this is not some evil, dark place, though of course it can be. Rather it’s a place ultimately unsatisfying and unfulfilling: it’s not our true home. In that place, to paraphrase St. Augustine, our hearts are restless until they rest in God.
The state of Grace is also a place, a home. The world we live in is still the same world. But in Grace we find our home in God. It is a home of accountability, yes—all good homes are, because they call us to be our best selves. But also, and especially of mercy and forgiveness and welcome. It’s a place where we feel close to God, because we are surrounded by God, engulfed by God, sheltered by God.
You’ve heard that analogy about how to be surrounded by grace is as if we are fish swimming in the sea. Grace is where we live, and move, and have our being; grace is the water supporting us and what we breathe. Often, we don’t notice it and think that it’s not there, but that’s just us fish taking the water for granted. For us Christians, God is that water; God is our home.
I think this is important to remember. We often say that heaven is our true home, and while that’s true, it’s also only partly true. God is our home, and God is here now, and we are living in God now, on the earth we live in with all its joys and problems, its ups and downs.
Sometimes we think God has abandoned us or forsaken us. Other times we think maybe we’ve abandoned or forsaken God. But neither is true. God is a place, and God is our home. God is where we live. T
he psalmist says, “Lo, even if I go down to the depths of sheol, thou art there.” Everywhere we go is our home in God; there’s no escape, and thank God for that. That doesn’t mean that we feel joy and satisfaction all the time; or that we always feel safe and healthy and whole. Sometimes we find ourselves in the basement; or the cupboard looks a little bare.
The world isn’t perfect and often we feel quite unsatisfied. We never quite get over that homesickness for a place we’ve never been. That’s because we won’t see our true home in its fullness until the revelation of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
In a lot of ways our home in God is like our homes in our day-to-day lives. It’s never quite the way we want it; sometimes there are tensions with the people we love; often we imagine the next house over is better than our own.
This home is the place where we will experience our best times and our worst times. It’s often during our worst times that we start to imagine that God isn’t with us, or that we aren’t with God.
But that’s not true. God is where we live; God is our home. And home is the place where want to be when the worst things happen. Home is the place we’re surrounded by love and hope. Of course when we’re sick or afraid or lonely or upset what we most want is to be home. And by the grace of God, we are.
Home is what gives us the joys we rejoice in and home is where we want to be when things are their darkest and we don’t know what to do.
Home is where we live. And our home is God.