Pilgrim’s Road Trip #1 – Goodbye, Eden

Pilgrim’s Road Trip #1 – Goodbye, Eden December 29, 2012

We live as exiles. We’re called to be pilgrims.

I hope to journey through Scripture chronologically in the coming year, exploring the themes of our identity and experience as exiles. I’ll also offer some helpful thoughts about how Christ can reshape that identity and reorient our journey so we live as pilgrims. J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “Not all who wander are lost”. Pilgrims wander with a purpose, an internal homing device that pulls them Homeward. Every exile account in the Bible contains an invitation to pilgrimage, for those with hearing eyes and seeing ears

* * * * * * *  

toothbrushingYou roll out of bed, not quite rested but shoved into another day by an insistent alarm clock. You trudge to the bathroom, brush your teeth, get dressed, jump in your car and swing through the Starbucks drive-through for a grande jolt of wake up juice before you head to another day of work.

This ain’t Eden.

So many of the ordinary bits and rhythms of our lives are shaped by the effects of our exile from Eden. Our weariness may be birthed in broken bodies, divided hearts and/or souls out of communion with God. We wear clothing, something not necessary in the perfect climate and moral purity of the Garden. Even that every-morning date with a toothbrush and a squeeze of Crest is an acknowledgement of the decay that entered the world via Adam and Eve’s “let’s try it our way” disregard to the single rule God had given Adam.

That disregard – sin – tore a hole in our relationship with our Creator. Our life as exiles, as people banished from  began the moment “let’s try it our way” bubbled up in the hearts of the created ones. Darkness can not exist in the light. Sin can not exist in the presence of the Holy.

Here are the first two lines in the story of our exile experience:

So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. – Gen. 3:23-24

The actions of God in response to his creation’s fall are described with intense verbs like “banished” and “drove”. Those words are the equivalent of a firmly closed door, bolted from within. Cherubim were called into a role as bouncers. That mysterious image of a sword on fire, a weapon of war in a place that had known only pure peace, serves as an additional protection for a tree whose fruit would be given to those free from death, alive in eternity – pilgrims whose faith and obedience defined their relationship with God.

As he sent Adam and Eve into exile, God promised redemption and offered protection. But toil, pain, relational struggle, sin and death went with them as well, marking them and their descendants as refugees from Eden. Consider the ways in which your everyday life is not at all like the perfect paradise of that Garden. Take a few moments to list the markers of your existence as an exile by naming the broken things in your world, the brokenness in you.

The sorrow or anger that you may have felt as you named those broken things? The sinking recognition that things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be?

Those are marks of the exile experience, but they also contain a clue, a compass of sorts. Deep in our DNA,  beyond rational thought or extravagant imagination, is a longing for home. Adam and Eve had it or it wouldn’t have taken sword and cherubim to protect Eden. We have it, too. This longing contains our invitation into the new identity and life direction God longs to give to his beloved exiles. This longing is designed to transform us into pilgrims.

Which word resonates with your life experience more: exile or pilgrim? Why do you say so?  

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  • Nancy

    Exile. I have felt this way since my parents divorce when I was 13. I am now looking down the barrel if my own failed marriage of 25 years and have no idea of whether I should pull the plug or endure the unhappiness for the sake of my children. Where is Gods answer? I keep looking for it and can’t seem to find it. Am I looking too hard?

    • Michelle Van Loon

      Nancy, we became friends more than 30 years ago because I think we both recognized our exile status in the solar system of Hersey High School. You are one of the bravest women I know, and I believe that your courage holds the key to the answer you seek from God.

      My words sounds weak here, but they’re true: I am praying for you and your kids.

  • Michael Nickels-Wisdom

    I’m not sure which is more powerful, for me. Maybe it depends on which way I am facing at a given moment. Exile looks back at the situation that exiles. Pilgrimage looks forward to the object of the journey. I think both are important, while pilgrimage involves something to do now and ongoingly. And also…recently I have come to understand my own experience as part of a diaspora, which is not entirely the same thing as an exile.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      I am planning to hit the diaspora experience in this series, too, Mike. You’re right – it is not entirely the same thing as exile.

  • Pilgrim. Since becoming aware of the reality of God, my existence has been one of searching, traveling on a journey, walking along a path, striving toward a destination. I’ve recently been diagnosed with pre-perimetric glaucoma which is structural change/damage without actual vision loss. After recovering from the fact that much of the optic nerve in both eyes is gone forever, I realized that this is just another milestone along the way. God doesn’t promise that we’ll always be well or even safe, just that regardless of what happens to us, he will be with us, as he was with Jacob when Jacob and his family descended into Egypt. Sometimes we’re slaves. And we wait until God lifts us up again. Even if he doesn’t, blessed be the name of the Lord. It’s still walking as a pilgrim on the trail.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      James, I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis. I admire your pilgrim thinking, acknowledging that our circumstances don’t define our relationship with God.

      • Well, it’s not a lot of fun but it’s not a disaster either. A friend of mine was diagnosed with ALS which is ultimately terminal. We meet for coffee every couple of weeks and his life tends to put mine into perspective. His encounters with God are truly remarkable.

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  • Thanks for this rich, thoughtful post! I resonate with both exile and pilgrim. Pilgrim for obvious reasons [“Walk with Me”]–and exile because living in a muslim country, I feel my exile-ness [is that even a word??] very acutely.
    I’ve always loved Hebrews 11:13-16
    13These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and
    having acknowledged that they were
    strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out,
    they would have had opportunity to return. But 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.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      Annie, I know you’ve spent a lot of time meditating on these themes! (Note to anyone who might be reading this – you must check out Annie’s book called “Walk With Me”, a contemporary Pilgrim’s Progress for married couples).

      The subjects of exile and pilgrimage struck me quite strongly on one of my first visits to Israel almost 5 years ago as I began to consider the impact that living in the diaspora has been on me as a Jew, and as a Jewish believer. I can imagine that your life in a Muslim country has brought some profound insight from a different angle to you as well. Hope you’ll chime in as you can on this topic!