On Harvard and Home

(Cross-posted here).

Ever since I graduated in May, I have received all sorts of congratulations on my achievement. These congratulations have all been sincere, much appreciated, entirely understandable, and yet (I have felt) out of place – out of place, for the simple reason that graduation has affected me more like an eviction notice than like a major accomplishment. Indeed, graduation has seemed quite literally out of place in my life: an out-of-place displacement of me from my place at Harvard, an unnecessary rupture in the pattern of my life for the past four years.

For the past four years, after all, Harvard was my home. It was not just the place where I went to school; it was where I slept, ate, and prayed; it was where I thought I belonged. Despite all its many sins, absurdities, and hypocrisies, it was a place that I loved, and continue to love.

Now, however, my time at Harvard is up. Without any say in the matter, I have been asked to leave, have said goodbye, and have left – not my school, but my home. Where, then, is home? I have thought about that question a lot in the past several weeks. Clearly, home is no longer Harvard; graduation took care of that. But it is also true, though perhaps less clear, that home never really could be Harvard anyway. Harvard was never intended to last forever – never intended to be anything more than a stepping-stone. Life at Harvard was designed with an endpoint, even if that endpoint seemed impossibly far-off to my freshman eyes. Harvard, then, was never my home; I was just a-passin’ through.

It took some time for me to accept that fact. Once I did, however, I realized that the same could be said of anything in this life – for life on Earth, like life at Harvard, was never intended to last forever. Life itself was designed with an endpoint, even if that endpoint seems impossibly far-off to youthful eyes; and so home – true Home – cannot be found here. This world, like Harvard, is not our home; we’re just a-passin’ through. We graduate from college, but we graduate from life, too.

It is said of the biblical men and women of faith that they admitted to being strangers on the earth. This fact – that they were strangers on the earth – is, no doubt, a theological fact. But it is also a straightforwardly biological fact; it is a fact grounded in the well-worn axioms that everybody dies and that nothing lasts forever. The truth is that the faithful departed were not strangers on the earth because they were faithful, but because they were mortal; and so we mortals, too, faithful or not, are all strangers on the earth.

Where, then, is home? Where is Home for us strangers on the earth? The answer comes in the form of a question from the same old song, "This World Is Not My Home," to which I have referred: "If Heaven’s not my home, then, Lord, what will I do?" Heaven must be home – because Earth cannot be. Heaven must be home – because only in Heaven will we not be strangers, pilgrims, outgoing graduates, long-term guests at a hotel. Heaven must be home – because only in Heaven are we not just a-passin’ through.

Earth is not our home; it was not made to be our home; it is not eternal enough to be our home; it is not good enough to be our home. Those are facts. The difficult thing is to admit to those facts. Doing so is what distinguished the faithful men and women of old: not merely being strangers on the earth, but admitting to being as much. In the end, their act of faith was simply to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that they had not yet reached Home.

Harvard came and went in the blink of an eye. Returning there (as I have repeatedly since graduation) produces in me the sobering sensation of being a stranger in one's own home, a unique brand of homesickness which is at its core a longing for eternity – a longing for an as yet unreached Home. Returning, consequently, makes me miss Harvard, but it makes me miss Heaven more.

I am, and each of us is, a stranger on the earth; I have not yet reached Home. These are difficult facts to admit. But they are also beautiful facts to admit, for they speak of a beautiful Home: the Home which we have desired (knowingly or not) our whole lives, the Home made for us and the Home for which we were made. Harvard is slowly receding from memory and sight, as will any and all of my earthly homes. But that is all right, if Heaven is my home. And if Heaven’s not my home – then, Lord, what will I do? "The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door, and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore."


Romans 1-8 Outline

Romans 1-8: Righteousness Through Faith

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations come from the 1984 NIV translation of the Bible.
  • Introduction (Romans 1.1-17)
    • Greeting (1.1-7)
    • Personal Items (1.8-15) and Statement of Theme (1.16-17)
      • "[I]n the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last...." (v. 17a)
  • No One Is Righteous (Romans 1.18-3.20)
    • The Condemnation of the Gentiles (1.18ff)
      • "The wrath of God is being revealed from Heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness...." (v. 18)
    • The Condemnation of the Hypocrites (2.1-16)
      • "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things" (v. 1).
      • Transition: The Gentiles knew God's righteous decrees (1.32), but refused to obey them, and thus were punished. In the same way, hypocrites who know God's righteous decrees and judge others for disobeying them but disobey them themselves will also be punished.
    • The Condemnation of the Jews (2.17ff)
      • "The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the Law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker" (v. 25).
    • The Advantages of Being a Jew (3.1-8)
      • "What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew...? Much in every way!" (vv. 1-2a)
      • Note: This section is tangential.
    • No One Is Righteous (3.9-20)
      • "There is no one righteous, not even one...." (v. 10b)
      • Note: While "it is those who obey the Law who will be declared righteous" (2.13b), ultimately "no one will be declared righteous ... by observing the Law; rather, through the Law we become conscious of sin" (3.20).
  • Righteousness Revealed (3.21-8)
    • Righteousness Through Faith (3.21ff)
      • "But now a righteousness from God, apart from Law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe" (vv. 21-22a).
    • Abraham Justified by Faith (4)
      • "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (v. 3b).
    • Peace and Joy Through Christ (5.1-11)
      • "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ...." (v. 1)
    • The Gift and the Trespass (5.12ff)
      • "[T]he gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!" (v. 15)
      • Transition: We have received reconciliation through Christ (v. 11); this reconciliation is a gift that mirrors Adam's trespass but surpasses it in scope.
    • New Life in Christ (6.1-14)
      • "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that ... we too may live a new life" (v. 4).
    • Slavery to Righteousness (6.15ff)
      • "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness" (v. 18).
    • Dying to the Law (7.1-6)
      • "So, my brothers, you also died to the Law through the body of Christ...." (v. 4a)
    • The Goodness of the Law (7.7-16)
      • "Is the Law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the Law" (v. 7a).
    • Slavery to the Law of Sin (7.17ff)
      • "I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the flesh a slave to the law of sin" (v. 25b)
    • Life Through the Spirit (8.1-15)
      • "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (vv. 1-2).
    • The Testimony of the Spirit (8.16-25)
      • "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" (v. 16).
    • The Intercession of the Spirit (8.26-30)
      • "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness" (v. 26a).
      • Note: This organization of Romans 8 has been chosen to connect v. 26 to v. 16: The Spirit helps us in the same way that it testifies with us.
    • God's Love in Christ (8.31ff)
      • "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (v. 31b)


"Thy Will Be Done"

It is an interesting thing that Jesus calls us to pray: "Thy will be done" (Matthew 6.10b, KJV). It is a request, and that fact alone does not make it interesting; for requests are common enough in prayer. But it is a strange request - on the face of it, an almost nonsensical request. "Thy will be done": as though God needed our permission to do His will, as though He would not do His will if we did not beseech Him to do it! Will not Almighty God do what He wills whether or not we ask? What else could He do but that which He wills to do? Is it not inevitable that God's will be done? And, if it is, why pray for it?

Requests are common enough in prayer, because prayer is commonly thought to be nothing more than an attempt on our part to bend the will of God to our own. There is undoubtedly some truth to this understanding: "Ask, and it shall be given you," Jesus says (Matthew 7.7a, KJV). In prayer, we ask and God gives. But there is more to prayer than such requests. There is also the matter of remembering God's will.

"Thy will be done," Jesus says: not so that God's will may be bent to ours, but so that our will may be bent to God's. "Thy will be done": not because God's will is at risk of not being done, but because we are at risk of not submitting to it, at risk of resisting it and rebelling against it. "Thy will be done": not because God needs a reminder to do His will, but because we need a reminder that it is His will and not our own that is ultimately our aim. That, I believe, is why Jesus commanded us to pray that God's will be done: for our own hearts.

"Thy will be done" is a call for the believer to surrender to the will of Him Who is over us and above us, but also for us - our Lord and King, but also our Father and Shepherd. It is an exercise for the believer to lower his will and to lift his eyes to the perfect and glorious will of God. Thus, it is not superfluous or unnecessary to pray that God's will be done, though it shall be done whether we pray or not; it is vital and essential.

Father, Thy will be done.