Reading Time: 5 mins

Forever Elsewhere

Reading Time: 5 mins

Elsewhere makes promises that can’t be kept, but God’s promises are secure, reliable, and certain.

A few months ago, a video in which a man appeared to be simultaneously wearing the new Apple Vision Pro while also behind the wheel of a self-driving Tesla Cybertruck went viral on social media. There was something both creepy and entertaining about a car speeding down the interstate with its driver typing away at an invisible typewriter. It was creepy for its novelty, risk, and isolation; it was entertaining because the driver looked so silly as his fingers flopped in a seemingly random pattern in the air while simultaneously confined within such a harshly futuristic setting. 

The driver later admitted he only drove with the goggles on for 5-10 seconds at a time as a part of a skit for his own social media platforms (which he also filmed from within the car). Yet the image has remained in my head as a sign of our times: not just of what is undoubtedly to come with spatial technology and AI, but as a picture of our current experiences as embodied people captivated by technological platforms that allow us to be in two, sometimes even three, places at once. 

To give one more - and perhaps more familiar example - after a long day, my husband and I like to watch TV after we put our kids down for bed and before we go to sleep. Watching TV allows us some harmless reprieve from our physical surroundings - albeit not entirely. But I have to admit that I am not typically only watching TV these days - I also have my phone right by my side so that when the dialogue of a certain show drags, or an intense scene begins, I can scroll through social media or google a random question I meant to try and find the answer to earlier in the day. Whether we have Apple Goggles strapped to our face or a glass box under our nose, it would seem, “We are forever elsewhere.”  

I heard this quote, attributed to MIT professor Sherry Turkle, while listening to social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s newest book, The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness. Haidt argues that after years of correlation, we now have data proving the link between smartphones and the rise in anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses among adolescents. Recent studies, including this one, report that teenagers spend almost all their waking hours online, even when at school. While they may physically be in math class, they are simultaneously monitoring their social media accounts and the hundreds of notifications they receive each day. According to Haidt, the introduction of smartphones in the early 2010s caused “the great rewiring of Childhood,” where “childhood was rewired into a form that was more sedentary, solitary, virtual, and incompatible with healthy human development.”

This is just the latest example of the dangers within that slippery gnostic desire for disembodiment. The more I’ve thought about it, the more the phrase “We are forever elsewhere” seems like the perfect phrase to not only describe Haidt’s research and our increasingly digital age but also the perfect phrase for the innate condition of the human heart that has been with us since the garden. 

The phrase describes what I feel when I find myself browsing the home listings on real estate apps for houses, I do not need nor can afford. It has popped into my head as I play with my children, only to reach for my phone and say, “Just one second, let me respond,” with my head bowed. It captures our modern obsession with our pursuits of progress that continue to be just out of our reach. It might as well be a tagline for all the times people throughout history have promised that ascent to some hidden meaning or knowledge about the universe was all we needed to overcome our humanity. It’s a phrase that captures the very essence of human discontent in the here and now. 

In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, the demon Wormwood writes about exploiting this discontent by tempting humans to live in the future:

Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present…it is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it, we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time — for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.… Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.…we want a man hag-ridden by the Future.… We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present. 

We struggle with the pull to be “forever elsewhere” because until Jesus returns, being here will always come with discomfort, pain, struggle, the effects of sin, and sin itself. Our hearts and the devil deceive us into believing that accessing elsewhere, fleeing the present, is the only thing that will save us from being here. We are lost sheep - constantly wandering off into the past and the future, determined with the former that we can’t escape the past or we can remake it or with the latter, that progress is just around the corner. But while the devil works to keep us enslaved to our guilt or anxiety, our good Shepherd returns us again and again to his goodness which is ours right now, in the present: 

  • “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:1, 9).
  • “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise”  (Gal. 3:27–29). 
  • “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13). 
  • “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).

“Christians are human beings who live in the present because they have been delivered from the guilt of the past and the fear of the future. In the end they themselves are not responsible for the past or for the future: they are therefore now, in the present, free and ‘without care’ (1 Cor. 7:3if),” says theologian Oswald Bayer. 

God resolves the lure of the gnostic elsewhere through his Word which can only be spoken and experienced in the present moment. When God’s Word is spoken to us in time and space, and combined with physical means like water, wine, and bread, we are snapped back into the reality of faith (which is of course, reality itself). This is why “the present is all lit up with eternal rays” as Wormwood tells us. Elsewhere makes promises that can’t be kept, but God’s promises are secure, reliable, and certain. They are accomplished for us in a real moment in time on the cross, they are given to us in a real moment in time through our baptism, and they remain here for us now, moment by moment, every day as the faith created by God’s Word forgives and secures our past and future in the present. 

Disembodied promises of contentment will continue to tempt us no matter our time or culture, but in Christ, we are not consigned to being forever elsewhere. By his death 2,000 years ago, we are remade into people who live in the reality of the present, where we are free to be and free to wait for his return without the hounding of discontent. Here is exactly where God wants us, for here is where your sins are forgiven, Christ’s righteousness is yours, and your eternity - which we eagerly await - is secure.