BY ELIZABETH KHOURI
I’ve spent the past few semesters working with refugees. I used to be surprised at how much I identified with their stories, until one day I realized that, in a way, I, too, am a refugee. A refugee is someone who has been forced to leave his or her home country and cannot ever return due to a threat of persecution. God created me (and you) to live with Him in Eden, characterized by what Cornelius Plantinga calls “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.”i In Eden, people would encourage and truly treasure one another. Students would freely rejoice in the academic success of another, even in curved classes. Government officials would always tell the truth and cooperate with one another. Trains would always be clean and on time. No one would ever go to bed with an empty stomach. Each human would vibrantly, exuberantly reflect the glory of God through his or her own inimitable experiences and essence. All humans would look to God, walk with God, lean on God, and delight in God. Eden is our home country; it is what we were created for.
But the advent of sin into the world means that we were forced out of this country. We find ourselves in an undeniably broken world, characterized by poverty, injustice, and disappointment. Because we have engraved on our hearts a deep collective memory of Eden, we feel that the world has somehow betrayed us. Because we know how things are supposed to be, we have a deep sense that the world is not as it should be, that something has gone wrong. Just as the refugees with whom I work long to return to their home countries, we long to return to Eden. We ache for a better world because we belong to a better world.
Recently, however, I’ve been thinking that a better way to describe the state of the Christian is not that of a refugee, but that of an ambassador. Refugees hope to return but are denied access, and helplessly bide their time, whereas ambassadors willingly go where they are needed. We were not simply banished from somewhere, but we were temporarily sent somewhere. Rather than helplessly longing for what we’ve left behind, we are to proudly represent our home country until we are called back.
This is especially true in my life, since I will be the first to admit that I do not face the hardship that characterizes the lives of refugees. But it is also not easy to be an ambassador. We must embody the character of our home country, following laws and customs that are not necessarily known or even welcome in the host nation. We must represent the message of a leader that we cannot see. We live in one country, but are responsible to another. We are to be in the world, not of it.
So while both metaphors capture part of our identity and relationship to God, neither capture it fully, and neither apply to all people at all times. Refugees are defined by their victimhood, and ambassadors are defined by their position and status. However, because we have sinned, we were not unjustly banished like refugees, nor are we qualified to be ambassadors. Instead, our identity is wrapped up – definitively and irrefutably – in the character and being of God himself. God sees to the very core of our dark, slimy hearts and, astonishingly, loves us nonetheless. No single metaphor could ever capture this—the gravity, ardor, mystery, and ineffable joy of our relationship with Jesus.
This is what we can know for sure: He has entrusted us with the most astounding task ever entrusted to a set of human beings, far beyond our roles as either refugees or ambassadors: we are to bring Eden to earth. His goal for us is not simply to change a few hearts here and there, but to project the Kingdom of God on a world scale. This will involve nothing less than the replacing of the whole world order, founded as it is on exploitation, greed, and striving, with a new order founded on mercy, justice, and love. This new order will supplant all other kingdoms and be the final order for all people for all time. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. And in that way we will, at last, return to our home country.
nesting dolls and has probably stolen flowers from your front yard.