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Mark Johnston (MDiv Westminster Theological Seminary) is the Minister of Bethel Presbyterian Church (EPCEW) in Cardiff, Wales. He was previously Senior Pastor of Proclamation Presbyterian Church Bryn Mawr, PA and of Grove Chapel in Camberwell, London. He began his ministry as a church planter in Ireland. He serves on the Board of Banner of Truth Trust and has authored several books including three titles in Banner's Let’s Study series, You in Your Small Corner, and Our Creed.

Column: Resident Aliens by Mark Johnston

Aliens and Strangers

September 16, 2014 •

Making Sense of the Here and Now

There is something deep within the human psyche that longs to be ‘home’ – to be settled in a place where we belong. Yet for many it is a frustrated longing. For some because they are, by virtue of their circumstances, dislocated from where they want to be. It may be because of schooling, or the demands of work, they are always on the move. Or it may be for more tragic reasons: they have been driven from their home and are now refugees in someone else’s homeland. For others too, even though they may be physically ‘at home’, they live with a deep restlessness of soul because the reality of home life never seems to measure up to their ideals and expectations.  
It is possible to explore this phenomenon from a host of angles – as psychologists and sociologists so often do – but for the sake of this column (not least with its title) I want to confine our reflections to one angle: the one we find in the Bible. There we discover dimensions to our human sense of ‘rootlessness’ that go far deeper than our immediate circumstances of life.
In a very broad sense, the roots of this rootlessness run right back to the Garden of Eden: the ‘home’ God gave our first parents, Adam and Eve. There is something vaguely paradoxical about Eden in that, even though at the end of the process of creation, God saw that all he had made was ‘very good’ (Ge 1.31), the garden into which he placed the first human pair had a goodness all of its own. In part this was because it was the location of the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Ge 2.9); but more significantly it was the place where the omnipresent God presenced himself personally as the place where he communed with Adam and his wife (Ge 3.8). It was both ‘home’ and heaven on earth because God, it seems, habitually met with them there.
The second chapter of Genesis gives us a brief, but tantalising glimpse of what that perfect earthly home looked and felt like. Not only was it filled with potential for the ‘life to the full’ mankind was intended to enjoy, but as the human race multiplied and human beings fulfilled their God-given mandate to be stewards of the entire world and cosmos, the blessings cradled in the garden would flow to the ends of the universe. But sadly that potential was not to be realised – at least not within the framework of that original world order.
Adam rebelled against God and brought God’s curse, not only upon himself and his spouse, but also upon creation as a whole. What did that look like in the immediate aftermath of the fall? Was Eden transformed into some kind of a post-atomic fallout zone? Interestingly, apart from the description of what the curse and death would entail for Adam and the world, the most visible difference is Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden that was meant to be his home and the inference of two bloodied carcasses of animals sacrificially slaughtered by God to provide a covering for them. 
Of course, the significance of their expulsion from Eden (and the fact that heavenly creatures and a flaming sword are placed at their departure point from the Garden) is not so much that they have been driven from a residence, but from a relationship. Eden had been their ‘home’ up until that point, not because of its grandeur, beauty and hominess, but because of God’s being there to fellowship with them. Adam and Eve were now aliens and strangers in what had once been their homeland on planet earth because they had become alienated and estranged from the God who had given it to them.
This double-edged estrangement very quickly comes to be seen as the essence of the human predicament. For all the beauty and richness of the earth – even under God’s curse – it had become a place of dis-ease for the children of Adam. Even the very best the world could provide could not satisfy. The words of God to Cain after he had murdered his brother Abel capture the universal experience of humanity as a whole: ‘You will be a restless wanderer on the face of the earth’ (Ge 4.12). But it is Cain’s response that explains why that would be so: ‘I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth’ (Ge 4.13). 
As we try to make sense of the here and now in this world, it is here we must begin. The sense of being dislocated from our environment and from our fellow human beings that is so pervasive has its roots in the fact that we all in our natural state are dislocated from God. Thankfully the Bible does not end on this dark note, but sets the scene for all that God himself would do through his Son, Jesus Christ, to put things right. We’ll explore this theme more fully in the posts that will shortly follow!

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