You Can’t Go Home Again
The Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah
Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but will go to my country and to my kindred and get a wife for my son Isaac.” The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land; must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.
It was this Moses whom they rejected when they said, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ and whom God now sent as both ruler and liberator through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up a prophet for you from your own people as he raised me up.’ He is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living oracles to give to us. Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him; instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make gods for us who will lead the way for us; as for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.’ At that time they made a calf, offered a sacrifice to the idol, and reveled in the works of their hands. But God turned away from them and handed them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:
‘Did you offer to me slain victims and sacrifices
forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
No; you took along the tent of Moloch,
and the star of your god Rephan,
the images that you made to worship;
so I will remove you beyond Babylon.’
Thomas Wolfe’s posthumously published novel You Can’t Go Home Again puts a new spin on the experience of Jesus and the prophets and their work in their hometowns and parallels it with the work of an artist… in this case, an author. The memories he shared of his childhood home made him, and the people of his hometown nationally known. He appreciated the celebrity status. They did not. While he was not preaching to them, his nuanced portrayal would have dug into their own more secure self-perceptions. His artistic portrayal was challenging and in so being – prophetic.
There is another bit of prophetic work here as well, within the prophet-artist themselves. The home they portray is no more objetive than that of their neighbors. Even more than the direct criticism they receive, their own eyes and ears witness a different reality of home when they return home from their time away, out in the bigger world. Our attempts to return home frustrate ourselves, giving us doubts about our memories. One ancient Chinese poet, He Zhizhang, writes about this:
1 In youth, I left, now aged, I’ve come home,
2 My tongue unchanged, my hair thinner grown.
3 Unknown am I, to the children I meet,
4 Smiling they ask, “Where are you from?”1
Once you’ve left, you cannot go home again. One of the lies we are told is that we can somehow return to those romanticized places that may never have existed in the first place. On the other hand, Once you have met Jesus, nothing else looks the same ever again.
God doesn’t want us looking back wistfully. He wants us to lean forward into a future with Him.
What longing keeps you looking back?
What hope of a new home with Christ leads you onward?