The Homemaking God

By Ryan McAnnally-Linz ’10 M.A.R., ’16 Ph.D. and
Miroslav Volf

“Behold, the home of God is among humans.” So proclaims a “great voice from the throne” as John the Seer gazes on the New Jerusalem coming down from the new heaven to the new earth (Rev. 21:3). John has seen tribulation and martyrdom, idolatry and violence and judgment. Now, at the culmination of all things, he sees—a home. 

God as homemaker is, perhaps, a surprising image, and yet if we look across the entire biblical canon we can see a thread of homemaking that runs throughout its long, winding course.

It is, perhaps, a surprising image, and yet if we look back over the rest of the biblical canon from its vantage point, we can see a thread of homemaking that runs throughout its long, winding course. To name a few important instances: parallels between the creation narratives and the design of the tabernacle suggest that the world was made to be a dwelling place of God and that the tabernacle is meant to figure the whole world’s destiny.[1] The Psalmist declares that he desires nothing more than to live in the house of the Lord (27:4). John’s Gospel proclaims that in Jesus, the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us (1:14). And in Ephesians strangers and aliens are said to have become members of the household of God (2:19). 

We can, then, plausibly read the Christian canon from beginning to end as witnessing to a story of God’s homemaking. Which is to say, we can think of God as a homemaker. Indeed, there are important features of our current cultural moment that suggest the homemaking God as a particularly fruitful image for today.

Wounds and Yearnings

For many people, home is at once a yearning and a question and a wound. Dislocation and alienation—both physical and spiritual or ethical—are inescapable, haunting realities. The roots of these phenomena are legion. For one, as Willie Jennings and others have shown, colonialism (not only but especially in its settler-colonial variety) both shattered the worlds of colonized peoples and twisted colonizers into deracinated, placeless, and—their massive destructiveness notwithstanding—ultimately hollow forms of subjectivity.[2] How could we be truly at home in a world wrought by the Middle Passage, the Trail of Tears, and the Bantu “homelands”? 

Not unrelated to colonialism and its ideological accomplices is the phenomenon known as “reification”: the habit of analyzing and relating to the world and its beings as mere things. Modern science offers an especially clear example. In the sciences, all entities appear as things, part of the web of causal relations. As Bruno Latour has noted, the sciences grasp “all things from far away, as if they were external to the social world and completely indifferent to human concerns.”[3] Similarly, modern technology, economics, and politics all have reifying tendencies. These powerful ways of relating cognitively and practically to the world reduce the world to a causally linked nexus of manipulable things. Relating to the world while located within this reifying logic, we stand before a blank universe that does not speak to us or welcome us as our home. 

Time Poverty

Another facet of modern life that breeds alienation is pervasive social acceleration.[4] Modern institutions and social systems seem to be able to maintain themselves only through ceaseless growth. That means, however, that what we have and who we are tend never to feel like enough. The moment we cease “building skills,” for example, we are falling behind in the endless race to … well, not to anywhere at all. Acceleration builds into our lives a sense of inescapable time poverty, which in turn contributes to a sense of alienation and dislocation. We are always behind and always moving on.

To the legacy of the colonial project, reification, and acceleration can be added the increasing virtualization of life and experience in recent decades. When we carry “everywhere” around with us in our pocket, it becomes harder and harder to reside, in a truly deep sense, anywhere. 

A Broken Home

The unaddressed ache of dislocation is perhaps one underlying reason for the popularity today of both escapist dreams and nostalgic fantasies. On the one hand, more and more influential visions of the future seek to leave the earth, or even humanity as we know it, behind. It is true that some (including many Christians) have always longed to be delivered from the earth into a purportedly better celestial existence. Today, however, untold resources amassed by vanishingly few of us earthlings—Musk, Bezos, Branson, and their ilk—are poured into projects that seek to leave behind the planet whose extraordinarily intricate ecosystems (eco derives from oikos: home) they disrupt with their massive expenditures of energy. As elitist as these extraterrestrial endeavors are, they express a more common intuition. There is a profound sense that our hope cannot really, deep down, be a hope for here. This home is broken. What else can we do but look elsewhere for fulfillment? 

Nationalists and “traditionalists,” on the other hand, seek to recover idealized social forms from a fictive past. They diagnose a sense of homelessness in themselves and place the blame with suspicious frequency on those who would not have a place in their imaginary domestic idyll. Their projects purport to offer a way “back home” from our current wanderings but in reality lead only to conflict, oppression, and repression. 

God Made Us For Here

To speak of God as a homemaker—and especially to speak of God as seeking to dwell with us on earth—is to underscore our radical belonging here. It is to affirm that God made us for here, that we are meant for home and that home is not to be somewhere else but in the world into which we have been given. It is to offer a vision of resonant relations of attachment among people and between people, places, and other creatures, a vision of real, mutual belonging.

As with any image of God, there are theological risks to speaking of God as a homemaker. It is all too easy, for example, for harmful and exclusive visions of domesticity to turn a theology of the home of God in their own harmful, exclusive direction. The faithful way forward, however, is not to cast aside the image of the home of God but to let the homemaking God expand and deepen our visions of home. 

Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at YDS and founding director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He is the author of more than 20 books, including A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common God (Brazos, 2011), For the Life of the World: Theology that Makes a Difference (Brazos, 2019), and Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Abingdon, 1996/2019), winner of the 2002 Grawemeyer Award.

Ryan McAnnally-Linz ’10 M.A.R., ’16 Ph.D. is associate director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He has co-authored three books, Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most (The Open Field, 2023), The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything (Brazos, 2022), and Public Faith in Action (Brazos, 2016). He is also co-editor of The Joy of Humility (Baylor, 2020) and Envisioning the Good Life (Cascade, 2017).

[1] See the brief discussion and references in our The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything (Brazos, 2022), pp. 5–6.

[2] See Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (Yale University Press, 2009). 

[3] Bruno Latour, Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime (Polity Press, 2018), p. 66. 

[4] See Hartmut Rosa, Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity, trans. Jonathan Trejo-Mathys (Columbia University Press, 2013).