But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
For so great is the mutability of human affairs that no people is ever granted a security so great that it need never fear incursions hostile to this life. Therefore the place of this promised peaceful and secure habitation is eternal, and rightly belongs eternally to Jerusalem the free mother, where the true people of Israel shall dwell; for the name Israel is interpreted as ‘Seeing God’. It is the desire of this reward that we are to lead a godly life through faith during this miserable pilgrimage.
City of God XVII.13 Augustine
There’s lots of chatter in our political world about ‘threats to our democracy.’ This has been a pretty strong current since I’ve been alive. The news reported of people wanting to renounce their citizenship under George W. Bush, a family member of ours was worried when we moved to Kentucky saying, ‘How will we communicate with you when Obama declares martial law?’ Trump was a bit bombastic in how he talked and his political opponents reacted as if the world was ending, and now we are hearing about the threats to our democracy that came and went on January 6th last year. Now I am so grateful that in my lifetime, I have not seen the carnage of civil war, invasions into my country, actual political instability, and the like. I don’t want to even imagine life in the Civil War in Syria over the past decade.
As much as there is talk of threats to our way of life and to our government, I think many people still live at ease. We have food always on our shelves, we have gas to put in our cars, we don’t feel the need to put barbed wire on the edge of our properties, and there is still a peaceful transfer of power at every level of government (even if most of the people elected are still unfortunately politicians). I think that with this ease, we can be lulled into a certain confidence in today’s government as though one of our great goals is the perfection of our lives now. And when there are things we don’t like, we are so deeply moved and troubled that we forget that we are also looking for a greater city.
Augustine’s point I think is good. When worldly government shows its mutability (or you could say changeableness), we ought to remember that this is the common lot of humanity in this fallen world. No people is ever granted a security so great that it need never fear incursions hostile to this life. I would assume Augustine felt pretty secure in the Roman Empire of his time until the Goths overran Rome. But when this happened, Christians still had confidence because their security wasn’t stuck in the earthly city but in the eternal life to come. And in a similar way, when there are threats to our way of life and our politics go up and down and all around like a roller coaster, as a Christian, we first should recall the hope of our heavenly citizenship. Instability in life can often lead us to meditate on our miserable situation, but Christians have a hope and confidence that peers through our miserable pilgrimage because our citizenship is in heaven and not earth.
This is hard. It’s hard to have confidence when it seems like the whole world is giving way. Of course, I’ve talked about instability in our government, but the same is true in every level of our lives. We might encounter the loss of our job, the loss of our health, the loss of a child, or the loss of a spouse. We might see with clearer eyes our broken relationships, we might feel more clearly the sting of sin against us, we might feel more strongly the messiness of our own sin, we might feel as though the world is falling apart brick by brick. But if Christ is yours, you can have a confidence because you are in Christ, and your salvation is sure. Your citizenship is in heaven, and the Lord Jesus Christ will transform your lowly body one day to be like his glorious body. Though our bodies are wasting away day by day, our hope is being renewed even more. Let your confidence be this alone and not in anything that is changeable.