It is an oft-repeated saying that Sydney-siders are obsessed with home ownership. With the current COVID19 pandemic set to cause a decline in property prices and young people raiding their superannuation to pay down their first home deposit, home ownership is again on the forefront of the nation’s mind.
(If I had a dollar every time someone mentioned smashed avocado and home ownership in the same sentence … I would have a lot of dollars but alas, still not enough for a deposit on my first home.)
With the current COVID19 pandemic set to cause a decline in property prices and young people raiding their super-annuation to pay down their first home deposit, home ownership is again on the forefront of the nation’s mind.
What does God think about my Australian aspirations of home ownership? Is it a good and noble aspiration? Or a dangerous pursuit with temptation at every step?
(Note, this article will draw heavily from Vaughn Robert’s excellent book ‘God’s Big Picture’ which makes Biblical theology accessible to everyone. You should definitely give it a read if you haven’t).
Home Ownership in the Old Testament
In the beginning, God is pictured as the One who generously provides us with everything good to enjoy, including our first home to live in. He creates Adam and Eve and places them in the Garden of Eden, telling them to live in it, work in it and steward it carefully under Him. This is how things were meant to be. Us, human beings living with God in perfect relationship in a home He graciously provides.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15)
But we sin against God (via Adam and Eve, our representatives) when tempted by the devil. We rebel against him and are subsequently banished from this perfect home with God.
And so we are left with a question that will take the rest of the Bible to answer. How can human beings live again with God in the home he provides?
God in his graciousness takes the initiative and starts with a man named Abram. Abram is told by God to leave his country and go to a home that he has promised for him.
The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)
Abraham becomes the father of Isaac who fathers Jacob, also known as Israel. The start of this nation of God’s people (the Israelites) soon find themselves in Egypt under the mighty hand of Joseph. But this wasn’t the home God intended for them. When they are mistreated and oppressed, God raises up Moses in the Exodus narrative to bring them into the home He desires for them.
The hope of living in a true home with God is one that is not fully realised in the Old Testament.
But even after they enter and take up residence in the promised land, the sinfulness of the Israelites and their indefatigable tendency to worship idols causes them to lose their place there. God judges them for their rejection of him, and they are cast far away from their home, many of them to exile in Babylon.
The hope of living in a true home with God is one that is not fully realised in the Old Testament. Even when the Babylonian exiles are allowed to return to their homeland to rebuild their former home, the elders mourn that the newly re-built temple did not match the glory of the former one (Ezra 3:12-13). This is not yet the fulfilment of God’s people living in God’s home under His blessing.
And yet throughout the Old Testament in various contexts, whether that be addressing the exiled people of God or looking forward to a new and glorified future, the prospect of owning your home and living in it is affirmed by God.
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” (Jeremiah 29:4-5)
They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. (Isaiah 65:21-22a)
The Difference That Jesus Makes
And so it is, with this longing for a home under the blessing and presence of God weighing heavily upon our shoulders, that we reach the New Testament. And what we find is surprising to say the least.
Jesus was homeless. The God who came to be born as a man was not swaddled in luxurious (yet breathable!) Egyptian cotton, but laid in a prickly makeshift bed of hay. Soon Jesus and his parents would be on the run: refugees from the murderous whims of King Herod.
Later, when would-be disciples came to him asking to join his followers, Jesus warned them about the cost of becoming homeless like he was. He told them even animals have places to call homes! But not him.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57-58)
Jesus taught our true home was (at least for now) not a physical place, but a spiritual life.
Jesus wanted his followers to think of themselves as foreigners to this present world … to long for another house
When his disciples were dismayed at the foretelling of his imminent death (and resurrection), Jesus reassured them by promising to send the Holy Spirit to them. So profoundly reassuring would the Spirit’s presence be, that Jesus described it as both the Father and Son taking up residence within the hearts of believers.
Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
Jesus wanted his followers to think of themselves as foreigners to this present world. Rather than focusing our attention on building magnificent earthly houses for ourselves in this present life, Christians were to long for another house that Jesus promised we would one day take up residence in.
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)
What Difference Does That Make Now?
There are good reasons to purchase a home. For example, the debt of a mortgage working towards owning something tangible is more productive than the ongoing debt of rent that does not.
But in our striving, we must beware lest we put too much significance on owning a home now—not sparing a thought for our future home that is to come. Earthly homes are only shadows pointing to our eternal, perfect future home in heaven where we will live with God forever. It will be a home free from engineering defects and mortgage stress. It will be the best home we will ever live in.
But for now, whilst I live prior to that reality, is my home first and foremost a treasured relationship with the Father and Son through the presence of the Holy Spirit? Or is Jesus just a footnote to my longings for a patch of grass on the North Shore of Sydney? What excites me and satisfies me more?