The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
“We come from God who is our home,” William Wordsworth wrote in his “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.” Isaac Watts, in his hymn “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past,” includes the prayer that God “be our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home.”
The English poets and the ancient writer of Deuteronomy share the insight that God alone is our beginning and our end, our dwelling place, our home. No matter where we go, we are traveling to God. No matter how widely we roam, we are homeward bound. T. S. Eliot ended his Four Quartets with these words from “Little Gidding”:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
God promises that eventually all this wandering shall cease. Our status viatoris, our human condition of “being on the way,” will find its fulfillment forever (Josef Pieper assures us), in status comprehensoris, the state of “having arrived,” of being in eternal possession of the good for which we were created.
In his hymn paraphrasing the 23d psalm, Isaac Watts expressed that we shall be “no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.” But the language in this passage from Deuteronomy speaks not just of future promise, but of present good: The eternal God is (not just shall be) our dwelling place. Even now our home travels with us, ready to catch us when we fall.
Some Hebrew scholars suggest that the wonderful image of the “everlasting arms” is taken from observation of the way mother eagles teach their young to fly. The mother swoops beneath the flapping fledgling so that if it tumbles in its flight it may land on her broad extended wings instead of falling to the ground. The young bird's home, its own loving parent, accompanies and protects its progress as it learns to fly.
This is a powerful image of our God who is our home, our dwelling place, even while we are still on the way home. I wonder if all the times we fumble with our uncertain wings, and tumble from the sky into God's own “everlasting arms” beneath us aren't precisely the experiences Eliot has in mind. “Arriving where we started and knowing the place for the first time” might well mean recognizing those eternal arms—which at our death will welcome us forever—as the ones that kept catching us all along.
Eternal God, like a mother eagle you fly with us wherever we go on our earthly journeying. You are our dwelling place forever. We thank you for being the everlasting arms underneath all our falling. Be our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home.
Copyright ©2005 Deborah Smith Douglas.