Wednesday, 12 April 2017

An Unshakeable Kingdom

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion." Psalm 137: 1

As I mentioned in my last post, I grew up in Africa. 

Here's a photo of my childhood home in Rwanda. 

It's the kind of photo that swells my heart with nostalgia; I remember lining up for birthday party photos on the steps, racing around the garden with slopping buckets mid-water fight, scouring the bottom of the veranda's dressing up box for just the perfect wig. I remember clambering over the hot corrugated roof, scaling the heights of fragrant frangipani trees, setting off on my bike down red-mud roads. My memories of Rwanda are packed with tea parties in the bushes, hide and seek in the wilds of the mango tree patch, splashing around in the lake at the bottom of the hill until the sun sunk low in the sky. 

But when I was nine, Rwanda was plunged, very suddenly, in to civil war. Within a week of it beginning, my family were forced to leave. I've written more extensively about that experience elsewhere, but recently, as I've been writing about belonging, I've been struck by the strangeness of losing a childhood home in this way. 

We returned to this house after the war was over. We weren't allowed to go in to it, but in the end we persuaded the man in charge to let us walk around it. Other people were living in it now: anything we'd left behind in the rush had been sold or stolen, our tree house had been burned for firewood, the garden was overgrown, and although there were some traces of our once having lived there (some silhouette portraits on the veranda wall), it was clear that our childhood home no longer existed. 

Of course, this is a lite version of what many inhabitants of war torn countries have to experience. 

Rwandans who had been our neighbours came back to the village, about three years after they had fled and they were forced to leave the refugee camps. They carried what remained of their possessions with them, and headed back to the neighbourhoods they had grown up in, neighbourhoods marred by vivid memories of a brutal genocide. They returned with fewer family members than they'd left with, they returned to places where flashbacks of violence and betrayal stained their recollections of life before the war, they returned with scars of suffering that I honestly cannot begin to imagine. 

I've thought often about this particular trauma of war. It's surfaced again as news from Syria has hung in the headlines. 

What grief you must feel as you experience the harshness of life as a refugee, longing for a home that no longer exists. What loss you must feel, even if you are fortunate enough to have found security elsewhere, as you see television footage of a place that was once intimately familiar to you, precious to you, reduced to nothing but rubble. For so many, war has ravaged those places that were once brimming with childhood memories of friendly streets and cherished quarters; the ache for citizenship and belonging must be deeply intensified; where do you find identity, comfort, security if the place you belong doesn't exist any more? 

This world is a world of war. Violent, indiscriminate, brutal, inescapable war. And if I am to believe this gospel is indeed a gospel, I must believe it is good news to those who suffer the world's worst. I am so grateful, that as I turn to His Word, that I don't find luke-warm promises that are only sufficient to cheer those who live in comfortable, affluent security. Instead, the realistic, raw words of Scripture shine brighter in the shadows thrown by the ugly violence of war. 

I don't really have any neat tie up for this post. But I did want to write, given my last post on citizenship, something, to recognise the infinite worth of the Bible's promises to those who have had their identity and their homes obliterated by violence beyond their control. 

To them, God speaks. And he who holds out the promise of a better citizenship and a righteous King: 

Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth, Say to the daughter of Zion, "Lo, your salvation comes; Behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him." And they will call them, "The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD"; And you will be called, "Sought out, a city not forsaken." Isaiah 62

"These people died in faith, not having received the things promised... they acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on earth... As it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city." Hebrews 11

"You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem... therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer acceptable worship to God, with reverence and awe..." Hebrews 12

"For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come."
Hebrews 13

"He showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel... by its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory in to it. The Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever."
Revelation 21-22 

"Our citizenship is in heaven."
Philippians 3 

1 comment:

  1. Reading the reminds me of the hope of Isaiah 9.

    Then goodness the will be a day when war is over and done with forever.

    1Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

    2The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
    on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
    3You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
    they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
    as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
    4For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
    the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
    5Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
    6For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    7Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
    He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
    establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
    The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.


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