Why Do I Not Belong?

World Challenge Staff

We often feel strangely at odds with the world around us, and yet God must have put us in this place for a reason, so how do we resolve this tension? 

A 1998 movie called City of Angels features Nicolas Cage as an angel who falls in love with a human woman. As an angelic being, he apparently has no sense of taste, smell or touch and only gains these after he becomes mortal in order to have a romantic relationship with this woman.

This being a Hollywood film, Nicolas Cage and his romantic interest naturally fall in love and decide to have a life together. The next morning, she goes out on a bicycle ride and is killed when someone hits her with a logging truck. One of Cage’s fellow angels asks him if he feels like he’s being punished for becoming human. He responds, “I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss from her mouth, one touch of her hand, than eternity without it. One.”

Mawkish screenwriting aside, the movie somehow manages to deliver what the exact opposite experience of heaven and earth will be. Once we’re in heaven, nothing about earth would be able to tempt us back. Once we see God, hear his voice, are healed from spiritual and physical corruption, what could possibly make us look backwards with any kind of nostalgia? Nothing.

The struggle we all face is that we innately sense that we don’t belong here in the world, but it’s also the only place we’ve ever known. Most depictions of heaven are…well, not very appealing. Nothing screams boredom quite like sitting on clouds strumming a harp. Recent television shows have depicted even worse versions of heaven. None of these places are anywhere I would want to end up, and yet I also don’t feel at home here on earth.

If we don’t feel like we fit in here in the world, what should we do in response to that sense of displacement?

Some believers strongly resist the idea of not belonging to the world. Heaven as they imagine it is essentially an extension of earth with all of the same features: cities, most technological advancements, and all current versions of animals and plant life. Any of the bizarre aspects of Revelation are excused away as metaphor because why would God destroy our home? If he were going to wipe the slate clean, God certainly would plan to recreate the earth exactly as it was before.

Whether or not God plans to remake the earth like Eden or with modern advancements included is beyond the purview of this discussion. What is pertinent is that poets and philosophers for ages have danced around our universal feeling of alienation and otherness so many people experience.

Modern philosopher and sage C. S. Lewis  wrote in Present Concerns, “We are strangers here. We come from somewhere else. Nature is not the only thing that exists. There is ‘another world’, and that is where we come from. And that explains why we do not feel at home here. A fish feels at home in the water. If we ‘belonged here’ we should feel at home here. All that we say about ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’, about death and time and mutability, all our half-amused, half-bashful attitude to our own bodies, is quite inexplicable on the theory that we are simply natural creatures. If this world is the only world, how did we come to find its laws either so dreadful or so comic? If there is no straight line elsewhere, how did we discover that Nature’s line is crooked?”

What’s even more important is that Jesus himself said that we don’t belong in our current environment. “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19, ESV). Paul seems to strongly indicate that what our bodies and beings will be glorified and therefore changed. “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” (Philippians 3:20-21).

So we can confirm that we aren’t meant to be here in the world, both through scripture and logic. For some believers, this is their justification for just waiting for Jesus to come back. That’s pretty much all they do: wait for Jesus and get angry at people who seem to be enjoying their time in the world a little too much.

If we don’t belong here on earth, but we’re still given lives to lead here, what does that mean? What should we be doing with ourselves while we wait to go home?

Jesus effectively answered those questions with his parable of the city on the hill and lamp in a house, concluding, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Peter and Paul put it another way. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), and “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our daily business and mundane chores are all meant to give glory to God, whether in the quality of our work or our attitudes as we labor.

We live in the tension between not belonging in the world and yet being called to work in it so our lives glorify our Creator. Accepting this tension allows us to live with an appealing authenticity to unbelievers. In the Truth & Grace podcast, Mark Renfroe noted, “I like to say godly authenticity is being honest about your best self, the self that God is calling you upward toward that also acknowledges ‘I’m not perfect.’ You’re not trying to present yourself as something that you aren’t, but you are presenting yourself as someone on a progression. I am trying to be more than I currently am.”

Renfroe pointed to Paul’s mentality toward his life, both the one he was living in the moment and the one he was looking forward to in heaven. “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

The life the apostle had pursued outside of God was not worth recalling or valuing. Renfroe noted in the previous passage, “Paul says, ‘All of those things? They’re behind me. I’m moving forward, growing in grace every day.’ That kind of idea.” Instead, Paul’s truest pleasure was in the duties where he could point to God and the anticipation of one day being in God’s presence.

This is where our greatest ambitions should lie. The world around us is important insofar as it gives glory to God and enables us to do the same. Our lives are our opportunity to learn more about God and grow to be more like him. Our goals should always aim toward delighting our heavenly Father and one day speaking to him face-to-face.

We get the chance to build toward that moment when we will exclaim, “I would rather hear God’s voice once, see his majestic splendor ruling over all existence and time, know his healing than spend eternity without him.”