Exile was a concept directly familiar to Israelites. Israel, though Abraham, Moses, and David, was given many promises. The Lord would bless and uphold his people. They were to multiply like the stars of the sky. The sons of Abraham would have a great name. The Kingdom of David would never end. Through Israel’s sin and the resulting conquest by Babylon, however, God’s people did not experience the fulfillment of these promises. Yes, the population grew and David had a mighty reign. But there were still Canaanites in the land. The Israelites did not experience the fullness of God dwelling with his people on the throne forever. The exiled Israelites became sojourners in a foreign land.
The Church today is also an exiled people. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians have been given the promise of new life and deliverance of sin. We have received the promised Holy Spirit and God himself dwells within us. We’ve been given institutions like marriage and the sacraments to point us to the realities of God. But just like the Israelites before the incarnation of Christ, we do not know the fulness of God’s immense blessings. We still taste death. Many Christians are still caught into cycles of sin. We have never seen God since Christ’s ascension. We too are wandering in a foreign land, waiting in expectation for the overwhelming presence of our Maker.
There is nothing wrong with our sojourn, but it can tempt us to only wait. It is possible for us to be so singularly focused on our future deliverance that we lose sight of the possibilities during our exile. In a similar manner, we may drift into turning the Christian faith into solely a matter of evangelism. Since this world is not my future home, shouldn’t my only job be to tell others about where we’re ending up? If this world is passing and poverty will never go away, why bother with feeding desperate people unless it’s a way to tell them about Jesus? I fell into this trap during my freshman year of college. I believed that politics was a useless enterprise because it was so riddled with sin.
Scripture offers a different perspective. Jeremiah, in his letter to the brutally-exiled Israelites in Babylon, tells of God’s desire for them. Did he want them to wait quietly in their homes until the king gave them orders to return to their land? No, God commanded them to make peace with their city. His desire was for his followers to thrive among those who were lost, to have families and beautify property. God wanted them to start the act of redemption that he would bring to completion. I think that God desires the same for us, as we anticipate the richness of our future resurrection.
Politics, though stained by sin, is a means by which to make the land of my exile prosper. Horrific mass shootings and the Syrian Civil War remind me that I await a new home, but they call me to care for my current dwelling. As an employee for the American Congress, I can make Christ known to my spiritually aimless colleagues. But I can also work (in small ways) to make this land a better place. The exhausting amount of outrage over refugee resettlement and gun violence must bring me to prayer and action, not quiet waiting and certainly not despair. My first love should be God. My second love should be his image bearers; not just their eternal souls, but their whole selves. Politics and every other cultural institution can help to do this in small ways.
Even though we are to settle and make this land home, we are also called to anticipate. The Israelites were told that they would return to their land in seventy years. Most importantly, God informed them that he planned to make them prosper. I’m sure that such hope gave the Israelites the encouragement they needed to do their tasks well in Babylon. The same is true for the Church. We are to look forward to the day when God will judge the earth and restore all things. Such love and grace inspires us to be more like Christ himself and to begin the task of making all things new, one appropriations bill at a time.
Eric Peterman interns on Capitol Hill and is a member of the 2015-2016 Falls Church Fellows Program.
Images:FreeImages.com/Till Achinger, Aram Vartian