There are a handful of ideas that make significant and repeated appearances in Scripture. (Think how many stories follow themes of covenant, fathers and rebellious sons, rags-to-riches rises.) These oft-told, recurring narratives announce topics that are so fundamental to the biblical story, so common to the human condition, they pop up over and over again. The careful reader realizes that these ideas transcend particular events and characters. They are, ultimately, the themes that shape our lives.
“Journey” is one of those defining ideas. Abraham journeys from Ur to “the land I will show you.” The people of Israel journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Jesus journeys from Galilee to his date-with-destiny in Jerusalem. Paul journeys to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles. In Scripture, the people of God are always “on the way.” They are restless and homeless. They are strangers. (John Bunyan picked up on this thread when he told his tale ofPilgrim’s Progress.)
Each journey recounted in Scripture involves far more than geographical transition. Biblical journeys require leaving an old life behind and progressing (slowly, arduously) to something new and unknown. There are dangers and challenges along the way. Trust in God is needed on these journeys: a willingness to turn away from the comfortable and stable to move towards God-created, God-commanded destinations; a confidence that God will protect and provide for the traveler along the path. Not everyone is equal to the journey. Some turn back. Some give up. Some lose their way. Some lose their hope.
God uses this “journey theme” to teach us something important. Not just lessons about Abraham and his wanderings. Not just lessons about fickle Israel and her forty-year walk. Lessons about ourselves … about the shape of life … about the story of all those who refuse to settle for “Egypt” and, instead, launch out courageously for the home they only see dimly through the promises of God.
Where are we going?
This journey story isn’t just a narrative device, it is a template for our lives. It isn’t just a tool for measuring the faithfulness of Moses or Peter, it measures us as well. For you and I are also on a journey. We too are leaving the known behind and traveling towards some far country. We have challenges of our own to conquer, dangers of our own to survive. We travel with trust and hope as our companions. We fight fatigue and hunger and despair along the road.
We know that our particular journey cannot be measured in miles. We understand that our route cannot be traced on a physical map. The only compass of value to us does not set a course with lode stones and North Stars. We journey in another dimension entirely.
But where exactly are we going?
Some are convinced that the destination of our journey is Heaven, that the end of the Christian road is paved in gold and framed by pearly gates. They believe our “Promised Land” is flowing in mansions and harps. They’ll know they’ve “arrived” when crowded around the throne, singing Hallelujahs, and asking Paul where-in-the-world he was going with Romans 9, 10, and 11!
I believe in Heaven. I believe in eternal life with God. I just happen to think that Heaven is the reward, not the destination. It is the crown we receive for arriving at God’s purposes, not the objective towards which we steer.
No. The destination is something built into our very DNA from the dawn of time. It is a “Promised Land” marked by the purposes of God and established for us before the creation of the world. This Promised Land is premised on the concept that you and I were made in the image of God. We were designed to live a life of holiness, righteousness, and purity. We are God-shaped creatures, meant to soar with grace and power and beauty.
Then came sin—that brutal, deadly detour from the destination God would have us pursue. Sin hindered God’s true purposes for us. Sin marred and bent the image that lay within us. Sin kept us hobbled, broken and scarred. Instead of grace, shame-filled bumbling. Instead of power, impotence and slavery. Instead of beauty, a hideous disappointment that made God weep.
Hence the need for “journey.” God calls us to a path running from the Egypt of our souls to a land flowing with Spirit and holiness. He leads us along a road that stretches from lost to found, from death to new life, from sin’s control to God’s purposes, from brokenness to glory. He points towards a specific destination: becoming the people God intended us to be from the beginning. We “arrive” when we experience transformation into his image, his likeness, his fullness.
Here is journey:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory …” (2Cor 3:17-18)
“You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Col 3:9-10)
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is …” (Rom 12:2)
It was Jesus’ plan “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12-13)
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Php 3:10-12)
The path we tread is a road called “maturation.” The starting point is worldliness, sin-slavery, selfishness, and childishness. The end—the finish line—is Christ-likeness, Spirit-control, selflessness, and spiritual adulthood. “Growing up” is the goal of our journey. Being “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19), being “perfect in Christ” (Col 1:28), is the destination towards which we travel.
We are on a maturation journey. How far have you travelled?