If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that we’re currently in the process of unpacking the expression ‘tolerated sojourner’ (my blog title). As I explained last time, this expression serves to summarize a vital biblical-theological concept: something that will affect everything that I write about. Hopefully this is reflected, at least in part, by the blog’s subtitle:
Meditation on the sacred. Reflection on the secular. Another simple journal of the great Christian journey.
The Christian journey is great indeed. In fact, it is more than a journey. It is a covenant pilgrimage. This means that while Canaan is undoubtedly the goal, there is also a legitimacy and purpose in the journey itself. To ignore this reality leads quickly to an eschatology (or, doctrine of the end), that is over-realized. And this is exactly where the word “tolerated” is so helpful.
As we saw in the previous post, the term “sojourner” is understood easily enough. It’s the word, “tolerated” that needs more explanation. Last time, I quoted from Kline to introduce the idea, showing that it is present as early as the time of the patriarchs. Here’s the sentence of that quotation that I want to make sure to underline:
. . . the covenant people must wait in hope and journey in faith. Theirs was a time for the cultivation of common grace relationships, a time for toleration and cooperation with the occupants of the land.
Without the above-described reality, there would be no need for the adjective “tolerated”. Describing the sojourn (and sojourner) would be simple. Life is about the destination, not the journey. So the sojourner simply needs to batten down the hatches, and wait until the storm of this life is over. However, this also means that the sojourner could quite happily look no different from the monks (in their monasteries), or the Amish (in their rural outposts). Yet, this is not the picture of the covenant pilgrimage. As Kline has shown, from the earliest point God’s sojourning people are called to live in the land and “cultivate common grace relationships”. On the way to Canaan, there is a time of necessary toleration involved. This also means that there is a necessary complexity to the journey itself.
There are a few things to say then, as we consider the idea of toleration. On the one hand, it is a true and mysterious reality that the sojourners themselves are tolerated. While danger assails from every side, we note in the biblical narrative that the sojourners are never kept from moving forward. The pilgrims themselves always look to their God to account for this reality. They know that, by the hand of the Great King, there is a purposeful and sovereign restraining of the powers that be, so as to make a legitimate road of travel for all on their way to Canaan. But this said, there is also an important (and necessary) flipside to the arrangement. As Kline serves to highlight, the toleration that is extended to the sojourners must always be reciprocated by the sojourners themselves. This is so because God Himself has ordained, and even covenanted (in common grace), that there be a universal stage upon which the story of redemption plays out. And so, just as there should always be gratitude for God’s restraining grace, there should also always be due consideration of this matter of tolerance and reciprocity.
This means that while on the one hand, it is truly all about the destination; on the other hand, there is something complex and purposeful about the journey itself. Indeed, it is this idea that forms the very rubric of understanding through which the sojourner is enabled to both appropriate his engagement with culture around him, and yet nevertheless move onwards in a wholehearted pursuit of the final kingdom that he yearns for.
In the next post, I’ll comment further on this point. Hopefully, however, it is already a bit clearer as to why I would want this blog (viz., a collection of entries that concern themselves with both the journey and the destination) to keep this biblical rubric front and center.
Kline, M. G. (2006). Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (p. 357). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.