I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Because we are called and chosen, we can entrust ourselves to God. Because God has named us as His servant, we know that He is our God and we do not need to fear. Our place of belonging is not ultimately in a land or in a place but with our God.
And because our home is with God, then all places become places of home as God is there. We are simultaneously displaced and belonging, refugees on earth and returnees in God. Each place we step is a place of alienation from that place while simultaneously being an experience of homecoming in God.
The difference is not just one of perspective but of reality in God through Christ. We say, “I do not belong here,” in terms of place, while also saying, “I do belong here,” with God who never leaves us nor forsakes us.
Ironically, we all search for belonging yet often feel we do not belong. We seek belonging in a friend group, a hobby group, a social group, or a religious group, but we still often struggle with a sense of disconnection and alienation. How is it that we can both apparently belong and feel like we do not belong? What is it that is wrong with us that this pervasive sense of alienation occurs?
I’d like to suggest that it is because we need a different sort of belonging. We seek belonging through external connection or place, but it is inner, spiritual belonging that we truly seek and that truly changes us. We were made for God and, as St. Augustine so memorably writes, “our hearts are restless until they rest in You, oh God.” When we come to the place of rest in God through yielding ourselves and our destiny to God, that is the beginning of our journey to belonging.
It is not that place is irrelevant, but that the first place we need to belong is with God. When we let go of our wildly surging press for belonging in this place with this people, then we are open to understand our chosenness in God and our calling from Him. At that transforming encounter with God through Christ occurs, we also find a restful home in God that enables us to rightly engage with the world around us. We live in simultaneous alienation and peace, displacement and contented rest. We do not belong, but we do.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.