“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
If the nation returns to golden days of godliness, we are told, blessings shall abound and the land shall be restored. If policy follies are fixed and rampant rulers remedied, the garden will once again grow. We are to “take our country back,” saith the Lord, if grace and mercy are to enter the scene.
Yet as Russell Moore reminds us, to apply the verse in such a way amounts to little more than “theological liberalism” – “whatever one’s political ideology”:
This verse is a word written to a specific people – the people of God – who were coming home from exile. They were coming home from a time in which they were dominated and enslaved by a foreign power. At a time when they needed to be reminded of who they were, who God was and what he had promised to do, this passage was given to them to point them back to Solomon’s reign, reminding them of what Solomon did when he built the temple, the house of the Lord, the place of the gathering of the worship of God…
… When God said to them, “If my people who are called by name,” he was specifically pointing them back to the covenant that he made with their forefather Abraham. At a specific point in their history, God had told Abraham about his descendants, saying “I will be their God” and “They will be my people.” That’s what “My people” means.
God reminded a people who had been exiled, enslaved and defeated that a rebuilt temple or a displaced nation cannot change who they were. They were God’s people and would see the future God has for them.
But what future does God promise us?
How we answer that question is central to all else. Thus, when we survey God’s story of redemption and restoration, we ought to be careful that we put first things first. Given our tangible proximity to American life, it is no doubt understandable why we prefer such shoddy interpretations, longing as we do for happiness, safety, and comfortability. As we see with Jesus’s own disciples, it is only natural to confuse this order, putting the love of man before the love of God, or, in our case, the Kingdom of America before God and God’s people.
We should long for home, to be sure. But alas, that is not where we are and in America shall never be.
This is not an isolated incident, of course, as has been noted here in the past. As Evan Koons reminds us, we pull similar tricks with Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Much like our prosperity-gospel tendencies with 2 Chronicles, we are quick to rip Jeremiah out of hiscontext — a place punctuated not by man-made peace and prosperity, but shackles, oppression, and exile. Jeremiah is pointing the way to true and lasting blessing, but as to where that actually is, we seem prone to missing the point. “We desperately want to make our home, but before our home is ready,” Koons writes.
To be clear, such a switch needn’t result in an absence of earthly engagement, as some might warn — a “heavenly mindedness of no earthly good.” Quite the contrary, gaining a proper understanding of our position of exile helps us orient our lives in the here and now. Seeing and absorbing the arc of the now-but-not-yet means everything for setting our hearts, hands, and imaginations on a freedom that endures.
Ours is a liberty bought not by pulpit politicking, but by the blood of Jesus. Ours is a witness spread not through strength and privilege, but through sacrifice and service unleashed by the power of the Holy Spirit. As Jeremiah writes elsewhere, we are to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city.” We are to “pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
“Simply put,” Koons concludes, “we are being called by God to spend the remainder of our days serving our captors, working with them (not fighting them or conforming to them or fleeing from them—but serving them) and compromising nothing. It’s rooted in the belief that all of our vocations (family, work, public service, education, art, and more) matter.”
As we pursue truth, goodness, and beauty across all spheres of creation, including politics, let us not forget who we are and where we are going. God has given us the gifts of truth and love, not that we might exchange them for a cornucopia of temporal nationalistic bliss, but that we might connect with and operate in the divine generosity of our heavenly Father.
This post originally appeared at Letters to the Exiles.