“Mama cut out pictures of houses for years from 'Better Homes and Garden' magazines.” I glanced at the radio display and turned the volume up to catch the lyrics. “Plans were drawn and concrete poured, and nail by nail and board by board Daddy gave life to Mama's dream.” The song kept playing, but the image of a woman carefully planning out her dream home took center stage in my thoughts. I could picture her carefully cutting out the magazine pictures, maybe arranging them on a display board or carefully pasting them in a scrapbook. In my mind, she never gets very far before she is called away to do some chore, but she always comes back to her dream, planning, hoping, and wishing. Then one day her husband surprises her with the blueprints to the house she has dreamed of for so long, and she can hardly believe her eyes as he begins the long process of building the house his beloved so deeply desires.
The lyrics reveal to us that this dream house is the singer’s childhood home to which she longs to return. It’s just another country song designed to touch that nostalgic part of your heart that yearns to go back home, but it struck me recently that it isn’t only Miranda Lambert who longs for “The House That Built Me.”
The desire to go home—or to find the place where one truly belongs—is latent in every human being. It fills our songs, dreams, novels, and poetry. We can’t watch a movie or TV show, read a book or even view current news stories without being struck by the fact that humanity is desperate to go home.
“The desire to go home—or to find the place where one truly belongs—is latent in every human being.”
Some of us have specific images in mind when we think of the house that built us. Sometimes we attach a location to our sehnsucht and think that if only we can get back to that time and space, “the brokenness inside us might start healing.” Perhaps it is a childhood home, full of happy moments and cherished memories. Maybe it’s a place we visited on our travels that haunts us, a place that calls to us from miles away.
Sometimes, though, we feel that we have to build such a place ourselves. We need a location where we can hang our hats, a place on the map which we can pin as “home.” We like to know that our loved ones, our dreams, and our memories are safe and readily available to us when we need them. We build structures for things we cherish—our families, our departed loved ones, and that which we worship.
King David knew of this desire to build a structure. He remarks to Nathan that he dwells “in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent,” and the prophet green-lights David’s plan to build a temple for the Most High (2 Sam. 7:2). I thought I knew this Biblical account pretty well. God tells David to wait, that he can’t build the temple because he’s a man of war, and everybody lives happily ever after until Solomon comes along and God appoints him to build the temple. But while reading 2 Samuel recently, I realized that I had completely missed the point.
Yes, the LORD does tell Nathan to inform David that he will not be the one to build the temple. And then He says:
“Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more… Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son… And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ” (selected verses, 2 Sam. 7:8-16)
The LORD—Yahweh, the personal Name of God which refers to His covenantal love—promises to establish His own house for David, and so He does roughly one thousand years later. A young virgin, just beginning to think of the home she will build with her betrothed, is told that she will conceive and bear a Son. She who, by nature of her womanhood, was not allowed to enter into the Temple would have the Temple enter into her by the power of the Holy Spirit. David had offered to build a temporal dwelling place for Yahweh, but the LORD of hosts replied that He Himself would establish His own throne—and then sent His Son, Christ Jesus, to “tabernacle” among us (John 1:14). What we could not give to God, He gave to us: not a temporal house that would be forgotten in a few generations, but eternal life by the life, death, and resurrection of the House named Immanuel.
“Nail by nail, Jesus was crucified to the boards of the cross in order to build for us an eternal dwelling place.”
Our world is desperate to go home. But like Pilate, we ask “What is truth?” when Truth is standing right in front of us (John 18:38). We too often look for a location instead of the only Person who can satisfy our deepest longings. Nail by nail, Jesus was crucified to the boards of the cross in order to build for us an eternal dwelling place — not because we dreamed it up, but because He desired to spend eternity with us, though we were dead, blind, and enemies of God. We who destroyed the Temple, Christ Himself, by our sins of thought, word, and deed, are ourselves temples of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God which called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Through Word and Sacrament, we who were unclean are declared righteous by the Temple Himself.
This world is not our home, but even now our House is Himself preparing for us a room in His Father’s mansion. “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” we state in our creed, a literal, physical resurrection; a reunion of our glorified body and soul on our eternal Homecoming Day. Glory be to Jesus whose throne is established eternally, and whose life, death and resurrection ensure that we will dwell with Him—and in Him—forever.