The Longings of Exile


Each day I make my commute to class using the public transit rail service near where I live. During the course of the trip, I pass a dozen or so billboards before arriving at my destination. Rarely do I give them much attention as I’m often focused on Hebrew flashcards or fighting off the cobwebs of sleep from the night before. Yet, one of them caught my eye this week. It was an advertisement for a waxing salon.

…I know, stay with me here.

Pictured on it was a woman evidently pleased with her recent appointment for removing unwanted body hair. Her skin was smooth, her teeth a perfect shade of white and surrounding her figure was the phrase, “Fancy a free wax?”

When I saw it, the strangest feeling overcame me. I felt a longing – not for the woman or the waxing service, but for the world where she exists. It struck me as clean, refreshing, and pure. No trace of fear, suffering, or debilitating anxiety. This Eve visioned unrestrained joy and satisfaction from her oversized Edenic picture frame and I wanted to be a part of it.

No sooner had these thoughts crossed my mind than I was wrenched back to my own world, the one I saw through a smoggy window on the train: dirty sidewalks, garbage dancing in the breeze, highways filled with vehicles burning off gasoline fumes, the smell and squeeze of high humidity as the sun was blocked by an overcast sky. The seats around me included at least one homeless person, a very visible reminder of the unfulfilled desires and longings within us all.

The great irony of the moment was that in seeing the advertisement and feeling the (likely unintentional) tug of its selling point, I knew it couldn’t deliver what it promised. Despite the longing in my heart, I remained in a broken world desperately awaiting repair. All of this came and went before I even recognized what had happened, like a shadowy vestige of a life once possessed.

It reminded me of something J.R.R. Tolkein once wrote in a letter to his son, Christopher. He said,

“…certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of  ‘exile.'”

 All of us have this idea that there is something better than what is presently offered. And where did we get that? Could it be that we all, in some sense, have a recollection of Eden even though we were never there? Could it be that all of mankind in receiving the imputed guilt of Adam’s trespass (Rom. 5:18) also received a kind of imputed sorrow over his loss?

I think so. We are all soaked with a sense of exile, longing for the home we lost in Eden, even if we remain unwilling to acknowledge that as reality. Each of us is searching for the road to Eden because we realize what we’ve lost as soon as we step from our front door.

And yet, God has not left us in despair. He entered into the perpetual drought of this present-day Eden to plant seeds of hope among the thorns and thistles. Where Adam failed, Jesus triumphed. The former was tempted in a beautiful, abundant garden and welcomed chaos into shalom through his disobedience. Christ, was tempted in a vicious, threatening wilderness by Satan himself, the enemy of enemies, and He left victorious.

Through faith in Christ, our longings are supplied with divine expectation. What was lost in Adam will be restored at the consummation of time in Christ. Though presently we remain on the outside of many Edenic frames, as C.S. Lewis says,

“…all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

What a day that will be.

*Photo by Craig Hodgson (CC)

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