by Brent Hamoud
Humanity is spending a lot of time at home these days. Stay-at-home orders have largely limited us to private confines resulting in some staggering consequences: half the world’s population was under lockdown at one point, 9 out of 10 students have been left out of school and airline traffic is a fraction of what it was. Images of emptied spaces are both fascinating and eerie snapshots of this historical moment. Whether refreshed by an unexpected season of simplicity or maddened by a prolonged disruption (or continuously bouncing between the two), all of us are facing something unprecedented and profound. This global season of sheltering in place indeed mitigates the COVID-19 crisis, but it also grants insights into a human crisis running much deeper than any pandemic: a crisis of home.
We are creatures undoubtedly made for home, and there are few things more desirable than a secure place to find meaning, set roots and fully be ourselves. Home is a concept and experience at the very genesis of history; scripture begins with a narrative of God crafting a creation where all is at home. Sin changed everything. The lush garden with “trees pleasing to the eye and good for food” [i] was corrupted into a dusty ground of “thorns and thistles,”[ii] and the world has been plagued since. Humanity’s story is characterized by the quest for a place to dwell within a world constantly threatening to undermine any sense of security and belonging. It is a precarious existence entangling our desperate need, unwavering love and lingering angst for home.
Few forces move us as strongly as the force of home. Folks have traversed seas and lands in search of a piece of turf to call their own, and countless numbers have laid down their lives in defense of homelands. Stories, poems and songs are saturated with the substance of home resonating from the deepest chambers of our beings. When John Denver sings “country roads, take me home to the place I belong” and Fairouz croons “oh breeze, for love’s sake, take me to my homeland” (يا هوا دخل الهوا خدني على بلادي) they are not simply reciting fleeting sentiments but invoking prayerful yearnings for something so profound and, sadly, so elusive. The cliché is in fact a devastating truth: there’s no place like home.
Our need for home is clear but our experiences are complicated, particularly during the current COVID-19 pandemic when home has functionally become a combination of haven, lifeboat and prison. Now is an opportune time to reflect upon this central element of the human experience, and I believe a robust concept emerges when we consider home manifested at four distinct and intersecting levels. Such a reflection can relate our current pandemic crisis to humanity’s greater existential crisis and draw us deeper into the eternal hope in God.
Level 1: The house or dwelling
The intimate, private living space is often our most endearing picture of home. Shelter is a vital human need as well as a general object of human obsession (entire industries are dedicated to “turning a house into a home”). We rightfully appreciate the importance of healthy homelife and grieve the loss when homes are broken or houses destroyed. Dwellings become an extension of our own selves. Letting go of a place we have called home can be a bitter pill to swallow.
COVID-19 is exposing how problematic this level of home can be. Stay-at-home orders are meant to keep us safe but safety is an illusion to those in extreme poverty where mitigation measures are simply not feasible. Furthermore, unsettling are reports of individuals compelled to self-isolate in abusive homes where the greater danger is not what lurks outside but who occupies inside. Homes are meant to be the safest of places- this is precisely why we’ve been ordered to stay home- but too often they are virulent spaces; the antibodies needed to build domestic immunities cannot be boosted by any vaccine of science. Never should anyone hesitate to seek or give help whenever a home has become a hazard.
Level 2: The community
Our sense of home extends to the level of geographic and relational communities around us. Sometimes this consists of familial or tribal links in a village setting. Other times it is the localized network of neighbors, coworkers, faith members, classmates and acquaintances. Regardless of the context, being home involves moving throughout familiar locations and within welcoming communities where you are known and valued. The jingle is right, you need places “where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.”
Social distancing policies have largely cut us off from sites and activities of community, and we are suffering. No amount of toilet paper or streaming services can replace the satisfaction of sharing time and space with others. COVID-19 has made us all like children, we miss our friends and simply want to play with them again. We even miss being around strangers! Communication technology is certainly phenomenal, but no one is hardwired for virtual connection and prolonged isolation. In a surprising development, however, some are witnessing a strengthening of community as renewed senses of solidarity and concern emerge within locked-down networks. Perhaps a virus is somehow treating ailing communities by reminding us of the importance of living life together with those around us.
Level 3: The world
Nationality, or citizenship, is necessary for membership in a nation-state and, consequently, the modern world. Identification documents are invaluable possessions that allow us to be at home in the world by granting access to a host of rights and protections. To grasp the weight of this matter, simply imagine trying to live life without any official documentation verifying that you are who you are. The stateless need not imagine; they are denied a nationality and remain effectively outcasts wherever they are. Every day is an existential crisis for the millions enduring statelessness and the COVID-19 pandemic is only exacerbating their unrelenting vulnerabilities. How can someone feel at home in a world that does not recognize his or her legal existence? Lockdowns will be lifted and most of us will return to a world ready to welcome us back, but the stateless only know a world of exclusion.
What are we then to do when senses of homelessness lurk even while hunkering down at home? How can we hope for any level of comfort in a world that can never deliver on its promise of place? Biblical faith reveals the remedy in an ultimate entity, a final level, that is energized with the power to transform all situations and fulfill our deepest longings for home.
Level 4: The Kingdom of God
God’s kingdom is mysterious, confounding and absolutely real. It permeates all places to radically energize even the grimmest of situations. The kingdom is our surest hope for home as Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom calling people to reconciliation with God, one another and our place in the world. This is certainly good news for all, none more so than for those who have been made meek in homelessness yet still cling to the promise for an inheritance, a home, on Earth.
Regardless of what life looks like at any other level, those who receive their place in God’s kingdom can claim a home that turns all worldly conventions on their heads. Whether settled in green pastures along quiet waters or displaced into the shadow of the valley of death, they cling to the comforting knowledge that God is with us. In this kingdom cups overflow in anticipation of what is to come. Just as history began with the creation of a good home, it will end with the revelation of a new creation where we will dwell in Christ forever. How amazing is the grace that says, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”[iii] For those of the kingdom, there is no doubt where and who the ultimate home is.
Until the culmination of history there is history to be made. As we pilgrim in and out of seasons of pandemic, may we set our sights on the highest home and minister faithfully to see kingdom comforts of home enjoyed “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” A wedding feast is forthcoming, and the flavors can be tasted now. The kingdom does not practice distancing; therefore, let us live in the knowledge of being homebound in Christ as we invite the world to share in our hope and take rest in our home. May such a stay-at-home order never be lifted from our hearts.
[i] Genesis 2:9,
[ii] Genesis 3:17-19