If God’s kingdom is already among us, then we should be taking those aspects of creation that don’t yet reflect that reality and transforming them into what they will one day be, by God’s grace and our participation. If the condition of exile is the result of separating oneself from YHWH, then what might a community formed by the presence of YHWH look like?
Just as the human condition cannot be understood apart from the categories of guilt and grace, it cannot be understood apart from the categories of displacement and placement. Since the Protestant Reformation, many in the church have tended to described mankind’s situation post-fall in legal terms. Yet litigation is far from the only metaphor that the biblical writers employ. In the biblical imagination, sin is the quintessential displacer. When God’s people sin, they are exiled. Seen through this lens, the biblical story after Genesis 3 isn’t just about guilt, it’s about dislocation. It’s not just about atonement, it’s about placement.
In Genesis, exile is a covenantal punishment. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve rebel against God’s explicit instructions and death is the foretold consequence. However, their death isn’t immediate, at least not in the literal sense. First, they are exiled from the garden—this is the consequence of their sin, reminiscent of death in that they’re separated from Eden (i.e., immediate access to the presence of YHWH). The presence of death indicates separation from home. Eventually, exile “became a metaphor for political disenfranchisement, social inequality, and alienation from God,” argues Martien A. Halvorson-Taylor in Enduring Exile. The fallen condition of mankind is one of dislocation.
While the plight of man is to wander, the mission of God is to place. Yes, the Israelites are sinful and deserve no home, but God is merciful and eager to pursue them. Adam and Eve wanted autonomy and ended up wandering. In the book of Exodus, we see the giving of God’s law at Sinai as the conclusion of his people’s sojourn. Insofar as the Israelites respect the theocracy, they can have the promised land as a place to call home. Of course, it’s not only God’s law that implies placement, it’s also God himself. A return to home means a return to immediate access to YHWH—access to the Temple. Furthermore, the return home brings with it an accompanying hope for a future Davidic ruler who will secure the placement of Israel once and for all.