Have you ever been instantly transported back to a childhood memory of home by a sound, or smell or taste? I am often amazed at how quickly a forgotten memory can resurface very vividly in the face of a familiar smell or taste!
I was born in Switzerland, and lived there until I was about 5 and a half. I’ve been back a couple of times to visit close family friends there. Each time I go, there are very definite smells, often quite simple ones, which remind me of ‘home’, all those years ago. The smell of the next-door neighbour’s house (and cat!), or the smell of chestnuts being roasted in the streets and hot cheese pies sold by vendors. As I write this now and think of them, I can almost remember and sense the smell right here in my lounge room; over 10000 miles (16000kms for those who care) away!
Those memories, the sights, sounds and smells, can remind us of ‘home’ very easily can’t they. And often, they make us quite nostalgic about where home once was. While all my family are here in Australia now, I often wonder what it would be like to go and live in Switzerland again. Would it feel like home?
Keller strikes a soft spot as he discusses our longing for home in the second last chapter of ‘Prodigal God’.
In this chapter, Keller likens us all to the younger brother in our exile. He likens the story of humanity in the bible, to the story of the younger brother. All men, since Adam, have turned from God, and fled from home with Him. The story of the bible is a story of exile, of searching for a lost home. We see that a lot in the Old Testament, don’t we. Even when a ‘home’ seems to be found, it is never the same. When the Israelites finally reach the Promised Land, or when God allows Solomon to build a temple where God will dwell with man, both of these moments seem full of promise. Yet neither of them provided God’s people with anything like the real ‘home’ of the Garden of Eden.
In the same way, Keller explains that we too are still wandering and searching for home. We are like the younger brother, who has fled from the father, and lives far away from him. We are exiles away from home, as we live away from God. Our home is only in heaven with him!
However, there is one key difference between the parable and the story of our salvation that Keller hasn’t touched on. That’s in the way we come home.
Here again, I want to be careful that we aren’t pushing the parable too far in the effort to liken it to the story of the whole bible. You see, in the parable, the younger son realises that he has done wrong, and that he would be better off working for his father. He decides to turn around and go home of his own accord. This is not at all the picture the bible presents of us in our relationship with God. In the depths of our sinfulness, we cannot even realise that we need God. We are incapable of seeing our need of saving. We cannot turn around on our own and make our way back to God’s house. It is only as god sends his Holy Spirit to us, and only as He convicts us of our sinfulness, that He brings us back to himself, rescues us, pays the price, forgives, and welcomes us back home with him.
Depsite this, it is good to remember our heavenly citizenship, and what it means to live away from home here and now. Next week we’ll think about that a bit more as we come to read the last chapter of Keller’s ‘Prodigal God’.