Songs can be powerful! Music has a way of teaching and preaching to our souls in a way that just plain old lecture never can. It connects emotion and words and therefore it has a power to stick with us and even transform our thinking.
For that reason, I believe that we need to consider the words of the songs we sing. There is a super catchy song on the radio on Christian stations that says something I think leads many people in the wrong direction.
The chorus says, “All I know is I’m not home yet. This is not where I belong. Take this world and give me Jesus. This is not where I belong”
Now part of my issue with this song certainly comes from having sat under the teaching of Dr. Michael Wittmer at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He is the author of a book entitled, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth”, and I highly recommend that book, especially if the things that I write are difficult for you to take in.
But let me say at face value, when I hear the words of that chorus I hear a case and point of what I have heard referred to as “evacuation theology.” This misguided doctrine implies that this world is an evil place and the primary goal of a believer in this life is to get quickly to the next. One of evacuation theology’s basic premises is that to exist on earth is subpar to existence in heaven, but this ignores a couple very significant realities.
The first is that we were actually made to exist on this planet. God made earth for humanity. We belong here! And secondly, we will exist here for eternity in the future. The future destiny of every human who has been redeemed through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is a restored earth, with physicality, culture, relationships, development, and all without sin.
At face value, this might seem to be trivial. So what if thousands of people in America believe in evacuation theology. But having seen this theology in practice, it has slowly become a significant bur under my saddle. In reality, a person who holds to this theology will begin to devalue some things that God values, and ultimately have a shaky foundation for loving God.
If I believe that this world “is not where I belong” then it is a very small step to the assumption that I need not invest much here. But that is a false dichotomy. Because the very God who says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” also says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I am convinced that we are exactly where we belong . . . We have been placed here to love others, even during difficulty. God has not misplaced us.
If we take a moment to consider the phrase, “take this world and given me Jesus” I think we can all come to the conclusion that this is sloppy, fuzzy or at least very hard to imagine. I do not know how to serve Jesus without my skin. I cannot kneel without knees. I cannot sing without a tongue. I cannot feed the poor without hands. I would suggest that the best way for a person to serve God is through this physical world He has created, and I believe He knew exactly what He was doing when he put me here to be an agent of change in this sin-cursed creation.
But before you accuse me of missing the obvious sentiment of this song, I agree fully that Scripture teaches that we are to “Lay up treasures in heaven.” and “those who are in Christ, are raised up with Him and seated in heavenly places.” Equally, followers of Christ are commanded to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” but none of these verses lead me to the conclusion that this earth is not where I belong . . . They all point to a higher reality and a higher way to walk IN this world, serving others and focusing on doing what I do for the greater and higher calling of the Love of God that is found in Jesus Christ! I see no room for “evacuation theology” in these passages.
As a pastor, I am tired of sin! I get a front row seat to both great glory and great devastation. I see people being made whole through Christ, and I see people shipwrecking their lives on the shoals of self-centered living. I long for Jesus to return and set things right. I want Him to come soon and make everything the way it was supposed to be. But I refuse to entertain the notion that I should throw my hands up and give up on this earth. I also refuse to give in to the notion that I either have Jesus or this world. I think I serve Jesus through this world.
And even where John says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” He qualifies this by defining immediately what he means by “world” by saying, “For all that is in the world-the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions-is not from the Father but is from the world.” It is clear that John warns us against a sinful world system, but not existence in this world.
I am going to echo the prayer of Jesus for my people at ReCAST church, “I do not ask that you(Father) take them out of the world, but that you(Father) keep them from the evil one.” I pray that none in my congregation would lose heart in following Christ. That nobody would throw their hands up in the air like Elijah and say, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life . . .” This world is exactly where we belong, until the day he calls us to Himself or returns for us in glory. And when all things are restored again, many will be surprised to find themselves right here on earth, worshipping God in a material world for eternity, right where we belong!