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. | Hebrews 11.13-16
I have a lot of conversations; they vary greatly based on who my conversation partner is. One of the things I have found playing a role in them lately is: the trajectory we see society headed in. If you see it as getting better, you will focus your energy on being part of the progress. If you see it as getting worse, you will attempt to stop (or slow) the slide in order to return to a past when things were better. Then there are those complicated bunch who refuse to join either camp and find the whole thing a bit overwhelming.
It is not this simplistic, but our expectations for life DO greatly color our interactions with it. As we have seen in 1 Peter, God wants to shape our expectations so that we can effectively live out the life He has prepared. He often spends His time, not giving us a step-by-step layout of exactly what will happen, but explaining to us how we should live in the midst of it.
This section out of Hebrews 11 quoted here (Byfaith chapter), compares strangers/exiles to the people of Israel in the book of Exodus. As a matter of fact, it simultaneously refers to ALL of those who belong to God while addressing the specific people promised to Abraham. In this, we are shown how our life in this world is akin to a journey. In what way?
DO NOT LOOK BACK | this phrase is usually attached to the story of Lot’s wife being turned to a pillar of salt. But in Exodus, we see that the people of God were continually grumbling about the situations they found themselves in: it was hard, they were tired, they were hungry…’it was better back in Egypt.’ They continually want to go back to the situation they were slaves in. Why? They had gotten used to it; the life they understood was more powerful than the freedom of God. Depending on God for food, water, direction, law was difficult and so they decried it, to the point of being willing to re-assume slavery to regain a sense of control.
The reason why we must not LOOK BACK is because we tend to have a revisionist history in order to justify current frustration. Like the Jewish people in the desert, we are often willing to take on slavery (both spiritual AND actual) for the sake of relief from difficulty.
FOCUS AHEAD | the way to combat the struggle of this broken world is to see an end; to believe that this journey is actually heading somewhere. All of the faithful who lived and died before Jesus acted in expectation of the Messiah. In the same way, the people of God wandering in the desert had somewhere they were going. Those who lost sight of this began to look for fulfillment in the journey. They built idols, attempted to take power, and at the edge of the Promised Land decided that this was good enough. ‘The Promised Land is full of giants which are going to take a lot of work to fight, let’s just stay here.’
The reason why we must continue to FOCUS AHEAD is because that is where we are going. We are seeking more than what this world can offer us; we must not become appeased by whatever limited good we can achieve.
Is the world getting better or worse? That isn’t the question we need an answer to. Like the Israelites in the desert, what is more important is where you are going and what you have been saved from.
What do we do as we await the city God has prepared for us? How do we anxiously await our homeland without getting fed up with this one? We serve others. We do our best to play a role in the societies we are placed in. We love and pursue God in a way that changes us. We proclaim the goodness of Jesus. We abstain from the passions of the flesh. We go to church. In short: Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.