If this is the first time you’re checking in, let me take a second to get you up to speed. I’m spending a few posts talking about the meaning behind my blog title (“Tolerated Sojourner”). However, as already indicated, in explaining the blog title, we’re actually talking about the covenant pilgrimage itself: a crucial part of Christian theology (affecting all matters of both doctrine and praxis). To highlight this, I’ll repeat something that I said in the previous post: to understand the nature of the covenant pilgrimage, is to understand the very rubric through which to both appropriate our cultural engagement, and yet move onwards in a wholehearted pursuit of the kingdom.
Picking it up from this point then, let’s be clear that although there is a legitimacy in our cultural engagement, and indeed a wonderful liberty to be “worldly” Christians (cf. “Where in the World is the Church?” by Michael Horton), this is all under the banner and idea of tolerance (that word again). On the one hand, we are tolerated by the world as a result of common grace; and on the other, we must tolerate (and even pursue ‘common’ relationships with) the world in reciprocation of this grace. And here once again, I would argue that the word “tolerated”, in “tolerated sojourner” is supremely helpful. Why is this? The word is negative, not positive.
Toleration by its very nature, is not ideal. Toleration is irritating. Tolerating and being tolerated means that there is a certain level of awkward concession and inconsistency in this life. And in this regard, there is a very true sense in which every sojourner should long for this time of toleration to be over. So enters a deep and abiding sense of tension for the pilgrim.
We long for a day when we will not have to tolerate. But we know that to disregard the idea will only serve to collapse the journey into a pseudo-destination. This helps no one. In theological terms, this collapse will bring about an over-realized eschatology: an issue that corrodes against the blessed hope itself. And so we press on, in toleration, thankful for the mercies that we have received, and liberated to live in the world as those who are true citizens of it. We console ourselves with this, albeit only partially: as difficult as toleration may be, there is liberty in it as well (a liberty I hope to show again and again as I use this blog to ‘reflect on the secular’). However, no matter how liberating, it is not the ultimate consolation. This world can never be my true home. My heart is somewhere else. My eye is on Canaan, with it’s “fair and happy shores”.
Here is the true hope, and the full consolation: when the people of God arrive in their land, everything will be different. And then, as valuable as the common grace institution has been, it will go up in smoke, never to return. In this sense, we should never forget, that beyond its immediate purpose, it has no abiding value. As Kline says so well:
[Then and forever] “the outward technology, material paraphernalia, and all external expressions of man’s present cultural life. . .will be done away with (cf. 2 Pet 3:10). . .those [common order] arrangements are limited by covenant stipulation to the duration of the present earth (Gen 8:20–9:17, esp. 8:22). The day is coming when the common order ceases and that will spell the end of the present network of nations. . . The current national embodiments of fallen man’s culture must be banished from the scene in the final judgment. For the new heavens and earth will have room for the holy kingdom of God alone.”
This is our glory! This is what enables our long-suffering in toleration. We know that when we arrive we will no longer have to concern ourselves with “toleration and cooperation with the occupants of the land”. At that point, there is no ‘common’. All is holy. God will dwell in the midst of his people, without any separation whatsoever. This is the destination. This is the land. This is what the pilgrim’s heart yearns for. This is why he will always sing a redemption song as he presses forward in the great journey.
- Kline, M. G. (2006). God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (p. 23). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.