Opening this week is the highly anticipated film starring Matt Damon, directed by Ridley Scott, called The Martian. The film is an adaptation of Andy Weir’s 2011 novel by the same name. Damon plays an astronaut who is presumed dead while on a mission to Mars and is consequently left behind by his crew with little in the way of supplies and, initially, no way to communicate with home.
This Martian comes on the heels of other recent similar and successful Hollywood offerings like last year’s Interstellar and 2013’s Gravity. Going back further, these films evoke the same type of reactions as 2000’s Cast Away. The uneasy realization the viewer experiences is simply this: I’m a minuscule creature in this universe, and I desperately just want to get home.
While filmmakers have been tapping into this yearning as of late, philosophers and psychologists have been talking about this same sensation for well over a hundred years. German existential philosopher Martin Heidegger called it “unheimlichkeit,” i.e. homelessness. It’s the sensation we humans often encounter in which we strangely feel almost like aliens even though we were born into this world.
This is very bizarre when you think about it. This is the only life we’ve known. This is the only planet we’ve been on. Why should we yearn for something more? This makes absolutely no sense from a naturalistic, evolutionary point of view.
C.S. Lewis helps us out a bunch here:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A dolphin wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope”)
In other words, from a biblical viewpoint, this uncomfortable, homeless alienation makes perfect sense.
Numerous times in the Old Testament, for instance, in the ministries of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, we find prophecies addressing the longing for home. In the immediate context, the men were contemplating the oppression and captivity that Israel was facing from ruling powers like Assyria and Babylon. But if you consider the prophecies about Israel’s restoration carefully, you can tell that they don’t find ultimate fulfillment in the Israelites’ release from captivity under the Babylonians. The prophecies promise too much. For instance, the LORD says,
See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.
For the Lord will deliver Jacob
and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.
They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord—
the grain, the new wine and the olive oil,
the young of the flocks and herds.
They will be like a well-watered garden,
and they will sorrow no more. (Jer. 31:8, 11-12)
While God did release the Israelites from Babylonian captivity, when some of them returned, it was never like THAT. It was still hard. They still faced enemies. The wolf never really laid down with the lamb (Is. 11:6). They were back, but they still weren’t HOME.
This homelessness problems actually traces all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Back then, the wolf and the lamb got along beautifully. No war. No disease. No starvation. No death. No sin. No selfishness. No criticism. No judgment. No relational dissolution. No trouble. No worry. In the collective consciousness of humanity, we retain this ideal that life should still be like that. The only reason that humanity has such a nation is because the world once was that way…and will be again some day.
The narrative of Christianity is that God created humans whom he loved dearly. But we rebelled. Seeking a life apart from our Creator, we ran away from home.
In the process we’ve experienced alienation. In the same way that if you or I stepped foot on Mars and tried to breathe the air, we’d soon experiencing suffering. Physically, our lungs were made for something different – an atmosphere with 20% oxygen as opposed to 1.5%. We’d fall apart. Psychologically, the isolation would drive us insane – we were created to as interdependent creatures. We’d fall apart.
So as we live on this planet, what do we routinely experience? Physical, psychological, emotional, relational, and spiritual turmoil. The only possible conclusion is that we were built for a better world.
And because God loved us SO MUCH, in the person of Jesus, when we ran away, he literally went to hell and back to rescue us. By grace, he came from beyond this world, as a foreigner, to experience our suffering and isolation, so that we could again become family with God. He came here to bring us HOME.
This gospel promise of everlasting life in Christ is a tremendous resource for dealing with the heartache and frustration of this present life. As someone who has battled episodes of depression for much of my life, I’ve come to the conclusion that God sometimes allows these struggles for me simply to keep my eyes focused on the life that is to come – the real life. I sometimes get a quizzical look when I tell people “I’m not that attached to this place.” But I’m not. I’m looking forward to the life that was intended for me. The life that will be. The perfect life with God. The amazing thing about a gospel mindset then is the ability it gives you to thank God and praise God even in the hard times, even for the hard times – because these are compelling reminders that, for the sake of a Risen Savior, the best is yet to come.
Rejoice that you’re merely a Martian here. Your pain is temporary and alien. Heaven is your home.
“Their mind is set on earthly things. But OUR citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 3:19-20)
(Article originally posted at TimeofGrace.org)