We’ve probably all experienced some of the joys of travel: beholding the beauty of God’s creation, fellowship with friends and family, meeting new people, experiencing other cultures or sharing the gospel. And we have probably all experienced some of the downsides to travel: fatigue, cost, family conflict, danger, work trips that take you away from family and your bed.
In this post, I want to briefly look at travel within the context of the biblical plot movements – creation, fall, redemption, restoration – to see what we can learn about travel from the perspective of a biblical worldview.
Made to Travel
First and foremost, travel is a divine command (vocation). It’s a work trip to do the Lord’s business. God tells Adam and Eve to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). In other words, traveling is part of humanity’s job description. However, God isn’t so much telling Adam and Eve to leave the Garden as He is telling them to extend the Garden. So, in the beginning, travel was a boon, not a bane, of human existence. And it was something that we did together: with God and one another. We worked together and Sabbathed together (Genesis 2:1-3).
Tragically, we’ve lost the missional, meaningful, sabbatical, worshipful and communal intent of a trip.
Travel Gone Wrong
Of course, things went terribly wrong. Adam and Eve ruined the trip before it really got going. They rebelled against God and were driven from the Garden. Here we see that it is only after the Fall that travel, in the form of exile or banishment, becomes a curse. God had to “turn the car around” in a sense; instead of the trip being about expanding the Garden, it became about finding a way back to the Garden.
Although the cultural mandate remained in force, as a result of sin, Adam and Eve experienced a kind of homelessness. Not only were they estranged from God’s direct presence but creation itself was separated from God’s presence when, after the Fall, heaven and earth no longer overlapped. God vacated the premises, as it were, in judgment and mercy. Now, we all find ourselves in a very different world, on a very different journey: one mixed with joys as well as sorrows. We all now long for home.
Travel Made Right
The consistent testimony of Scripture is that humanity is incapable of making their own way back to God and the Garden. As a result, God faced the seemingly impossible task of reconciling the demands of justice (“the wages of sin is death”) with His promise to save us (Genesis 3:15). How can God make a way home through what appears to be a dead end? As we know, Jesus took a trip that resolved this dilemma. He took a trip from heaven to earth so that we could take a trip to heaven instead of hell:
For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4).
In short, Jesus brings us home (Ephesians 2:6). He has secured our passage to the New Heavens and New Earth.
Travel in the ‘Already, Not Yet’
It’s hard to deny that there is something troubling about the modern American approach to travel, which at this point could almost be classified as a competitive sport. Travel, especially the travel we see on social media, seems to have devolved into:
- A search for identity (travel to find myself);
- A quest for validation (travel as a way to be seen and accepted);
- The pursuit of meaning (travel as a substitute for purpose);
- An attempt to satiate an unsatisfied hunger for happiness (travel as a way to titillate and medicate).
Maybe we could summarize all this by saying that travel has become a form of bragging (look at me) and begging (look at me) at the same time.
Tragically, we’ve lost the missional, meaningful, sabbatical, worshipful and communal intent of a trip. In light of these dangers, how should we, as Christians, think about and engage in travel? Can we “redeem the trip”? I’ll share a few thoughts below and then would love to hear from you in the comments:
One of the first things to be said, is that we shouldn’t measure our worth in terms of how many airline miles we have logged or how many exotic destinations we have visited. As Christians, even if we never physically travel more than five miles, we are on a spiritual pilgrimage to a destination infinitely more glorious than any five-star accommodation: “as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Corinthians 2:9). And our identity and value are not determined by our travel itinerary (even our eternal one), but by our union with Christ.
Second, whether we are traveling for work or play (both of which are great), our motivation should be God’s glory and the good of our neighbor, not self-promotion or self-indulgence. Practically, this means that God’s glory will be the preeminent criterion in determining how we steward our time and resources when we are “on the road” (or off it).
For instance, consider our use of that traveling publicist we all cary with us—our cell phones. St. Augustine would tell us that our loves are disordered if we cannot engage in a work trip or enjoy vacation until we post about it. As an example, we should enjoy hugging our kids and talking with our spouses before/more than we do posting or scrolling to see other people hugging their children and talking with their spouses. Of course, there is nothing wrong with posting about our travels. The point is just that we shouldn’t allow our phones to interfere with work or family life, and that our motivation when posting should be to share the delight of a God enabled experience or apprehension of truth with the people we love—as opposed to receiving praise from strangers.
Third, we should travel with an eye towards the opportunities God will provide to share the gospel and extend mercy. In other words, whether we are traveling for work or play, we should be looking for opportunities on the plane, playground or in the hotel lobby for chances to tell people about and practically show them the love of Jesus.
We shouldn’t measure our worth in terms of how many airline miles we have logged or how many exotic destinations we have visited.
Regardless of who we are, what we are all really looking for on our trips transcends the places we can go by land, air or sea. Deep down, whether we know it or not, what we all really want is to arrive on the shores of the New Heavens and New Earth—our true home. As Jewel says in C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Last Battle’ when arriving in the true Narnia: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.” The new creation is our real country and one day we will get there, but until then, let’s go (Matthew 28:16-20) and tell as many people as we can that there is only one means of “transportation” to that glorious destination—the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.