Road Sign of Christendom and Notions of Success

(photo from here)

“So also with the road sign ‘Christendom.’ It designates the direction, but has one therefore arrived at the goal, or is one always only– on the way?” (Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 48).

It’s funny how Christianity gets so twisted up with false ideals of selfhood, worth, and progress. The often subtle (and, well, often not so subtle) ways that church culture and American Christendom (exemplified both in conservative and liberal political and ecclesial ideologies) tell us who we are supposed to be, what our families are supposed to look like, etc. There are lots of good Christians who talk about women’s role as wife and mother, and the fulfillment that comes through those roles. There are book titles like Heaven at Home: Establishing and Enjoying a Peaceful Home. I haven’t read it, and it may have some excellent pointers about making a home (which is a good and valuable enterprise). The author may even have meant her title in an ironic sense and may address the total discrepancy between the notions of heaven and (earthly) home in her book. But my guess is that this book is part of the Christian culture that idolizes the home, idolizes specific ways that gender roles MUST look, and gently whispers to us that we can make heaven for ourselves in our homes. This is creepy and wrong.

I’m saying all this because my birthday was a few days ago, and rather than rejoicing for all the blessings that have been lavished on me, all I could think is how little I have made of my life so far and how I don’t have any babies yet. I can’t help but think of all the people my age who already have 2 or 3 babies. Or who have fantastic careers. Or who are able to work full time and keep a perfect house somehow. But I have been gently reminded that Jesus is my only heaven. It isn’t marriage (which is wonderful and I am so thankful for my amazing husband). It isn’t babies (even though I want one!). It isn’t my home or my ability to be a “homemaker.” It’s Jesus. Heaven is a person, not our homes. Jesus didn’t even have a place to lay his head. Jesus was single. Jesus didn’t plan a wedding, get a bunch of Pottery Barn furniture, procreate and buy a bunch of Pottery Barn Kids stuff. Jesus’ life should mess with our ideas of family and home.

Anyway, I have quoted this before, but it bears repeating.

“The world’s idea that everyone, from childhood up, should be able at all times to succeed in measurable ways, and that it is a great disgrace not to, hangs over the Christian community like a pall of acrid smoke.” (J.I. Packer, A Passion for Faithfulness: Wisdom From the Book of Nehemiah)

We have not arrived. We will not arrive this side of heaven. We are always only– on our way.

n.b.– I had a feeling as I was writing yesterday that I might have to put my foot in my mouth with respect to the Heaven at Home bit. I still stand by what I said, but a dear, thoughtful, and wise friend mentioned that the beauty of following Jesus is that we do get glimpses of glory in everyday life, that bits of heaven do break in, that in a sense the kingdom of heaven is here… So, so, so true. But I think the danger of the title is that it implies that Glory breaks in and heaven is established because of our efforts to maintain a peaceful, “heavenly,” home through nurturing, disciplining, etc. We are not able to control or channel the workings of the Spirit or the inbreaking of the Kingdom. It always comes to us from above. It is always a gift. And it always remains partial and eschatological: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12).


3 thoughts on “Road Sign of Christendom and Notions of Success”

  1. Thanks for the Packer quote, Laurie! I needed that. And just a thought about the title Heaven at Home…isn’t one of the incredible things about Jesus is that He is a living Lord and that following Him means that sometimes Heaven breaks in to this life? I certainly agree that “we are to pitied above all men if for this life only we have hope” but isn’t living out “kingdom-like conditions” part of why we are not immediately whisked away to heaven? thoughts? (I haven’t read the book either but from my friend Laura’s review, it looks like a lot of the book is about the relationships within a home rather than, say, furniture and air fresheners.)

  2. Oh Mary. Your comments with respect to the book title are so true. From the little I know if it, it DOES look like it’s about relationships and harmony, etc., which are good, good things. I just wish it were titled something that didn’t suggest that we are redeemed through marriage, children, and housekeeping, or that we are the ones who create heaven……… Arg. I should probably read it before I start saying things about it though……………

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