Mourning the Death of a Dwelling Place – Hayden Hefner

Several years ago, my wife and I purchased our first home. Several weeks from now, we will lock the front door for the last time. If I’m being honest, the thought of selling our little home makes me sad. This house has been the backdrop and base camp for some of the most memorable and formative moments of our life together.

Everywhere I look—even as I write this—I’m reminded of both sweet and bitter memories. The almost perfectly painted walls remind me of the times my extended family took off work to renovate our home. The hodgepodge assortment of chairs in our living room reminds me of all the sweet times we’ve spent huddled with our Thursday night community group. The unused nursery filled with unworn baby clothes reminds me of the baby girl we never brought home from the hospital.

We have rejoiced within these walls. We have wept within these walls. Even though our house is not alive, it bears witness to our living. This is why locking the front door for the last time will feel like a sort of death. It is the fading away of a physical reminder. It is the death of a dwelling place.

Even though our house is not alive, it bears witness to our living.

I know this kind of nostalgia may seem overwrought (or maybe even laughable) to some. We must surely beware of the debilitating idolatry of sentimentalism. But we must also be aware of cold utilitarianism. We must beware both of elevating good gifts to the status of gods and downplaying God’s good gifts with stoic—even gnostic—indifference. 

Make no mistake, in whatever form it takes—be it a tent or townhouse—having a home is a good thing. Home is God’s idea.

Living in Eden’s Shadow

In the beginning, God placed man within a perfect garden home (Gen. 2:5–9). Eden was made for man, and Eden was not made to end. God graciously gave the man and woman their “forever home” (no house-hunting or shiplap required). At the fall, however, Adam and Eve were rightfully and forcibly evicted from what should have been their eternal home (Gen. 3:24). Ever since, humans have wandered from one temporary abode to another.

That’s why it’s appropriate when we mourn the death of a dwelling place. We were not created for this. We were not created for moving boxes, “sold” signs, and turned-in keys. We were not made for walking away from home.

We were not created for moving boxes, ‘sold’ signs, and turned-in keys. We were not made for walking away from home.

Instead, we were made for expanding our home. Man was made to “multiply and fill” the world (Gen. 1:28). Humans were given the joyous responsibility to “subdue” the earth and exercise care-taking “dominion” over creation (Gen. 1:28). I believe Lewis articulates this mandate well when he describes our experience in the New Eden as a return to a never-ending “further up and further in.”

Mankind’s God-given home in Eden was meant to expand. It was not created to end.

This is why leaving home feels unnatural. We were not made for good things to end. We were not made for series finales on screens, sold signs in yards, and dates on tombstones. We were not made for locked doors and closed caskets. The reason why all these endings feel foreign is because they are foreign. Endings—especially of good things—will always haunt those who live east of Eden. 

Nostalgia is no mere byproduct of evolutionary processes. It is (at least in some sense) the uneasy longing to return to the dwelling places—the “edens”—of yesterday. For the Christian, though, the death of dwelling places need not debilitate us. Because in Christ, these edens are but foreshadowings of the New Eden—the perfect garden-city home to come (Rev. 22:1–5).

New Eden’s Increasing Nearness

As those who live on this side of the consummated kingdom, we still experience the effects of the fall. Yet we shouldn’t mourn these effects as if we’ve been evicted from Eden yet again. Instead, we should allow all sorrow on this side of the better Adam’s final triumphant entry to remind us that a New Eden is before us.

Mankind’s God-given home in Eden was meant to expand. It was not created to end.

Don’t be mistaken: this New Eden hope must not be confused with a sentimental hope in a never-realized future. Yes, our future hope in Christ is eternal (1 Pet. 1:4), but this hope will not eternally be in the future. One day, the future kingdom will be a present reality. Our resurrected King will split the sky, and the coming kingdom will no longer glow from behind the horizon. It will crack the eastern horizon, rise to noonday, and never retreat westward. Yes, the New Eden is before us, but it will not forever be before us. And, it is not so distant that we cannot taste its increasing nearness.

Eschatological Mile Markers

In the passing of shadows, we taste the nearness of the new Eden. Every sorrow on this side of Christ’s return is an eschatological mile marker—a signpost telling us we’re one mile closer to the New Eden. For the Christian, sorrowful endings are signposts reminding us that all our passing earthly joys are just shadows of a lasting joy to come.

“Sold” signs are signposts on the narrow road to New Eden. Locked earthly doors remind us of heaven’s open gates. The death of an earthly dwelling place reminds us we have a new and better homecoming—one not subject to peeling paint, weather damage, or financial foreclosure, but designed and built by the Lord (Heb. 11:10).

For the Christian, sorrowful endings are signposts reminding us that all our passing earthly joys are just shadows of a lasting joy to come.

So yes, mourn when you lock the door for the last time. Lament when arthritis keeps you from running or epilepsy keeps you from driving. Weep when a loved one falls sick. Weep when the casket is closed.

In the midst of the mourning, however, remember: the passing of a shadow means we are that much closer to the object.

Read More
The Gospel Coalition