I recently finished Eugene Peterson’s wonderful book, Run with the Horses. I started reading it several months ago and got sidetracked, as often happens in the busy seasons of life. I’ll post a full review of the book tomorrow, but today I’d like to share some thoughts from the book that are relevant to what I posted on Monday, Born for Babylon.
Chapter 12 deals with Jeremiah 29, in which the prophet delivers a message to his fellow Hebrews who have been taken into exile in Babylon. His message is this: “Get used to life there. Settle down. Get married. Plant a garden. Pray for Babylon, because you’re going to be there for 70 years.” Not exactly what you want to hear if you’re the displaced Israelites. Peterson describes exile this way:
The essential meaning of exile is that we are where we don’t want to be. We are separated from home. We are not permitted to reside in the place where we comprehend and appreciate our surroundings. We are forced to be away from that which is most congenial to us.
Exile is where life doesn’t make sense. The familiar rhythms have been drowned in the thunderclaps of that which is foreign.
Jeremiah taught the Israelites to embrace the foreign and unfamiliar. There were other prophets, however, who were preaching a message of false hope. They said the horror would be over in less than 2 years. A far cry from the 70 predicted by Jeremiah.
These three [false] prophets made a good living fomenting discontent and merchandising nostalgia. But their messages and dreams, besides being false, were destructive. False dreams interfere with honest living. As long as the people thought that they might be going home at any time, it made no sense to engage in committed, faithful work in Babylon. If there was a good chance that they would soon get back all they had lost, there was no need to develop a life of richness, texture and depth where they were. …The people, glad for a religious reason to be lazy, lived hand to mouth, parasites on society, irresponsible in their relationships, indifferent to the reality of their actual lives.
You may not like where you’re at, but that’s the only place you are, and it’s the only place you can live for Jesus. Exile, in all its forms, sucks. No doubt about it. But you have to come to terms with the reality that this may be where you’re always going to be.
The only place you have to be human is where you are right now. The only opportunity you will ever have to live by faith is in the circumstances you are provided this very day: this house you live in, this family you find yourself in, this job you have been given, the weather conditions that prevail at this moment. …The aim of the person of faith is not to be as comfortable as possible but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible–to deal with the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, act out love.
Peterson goes on to write that exile forces us to make a decision between feeling sorry for ourselves or making the best of our circumstances.
We can say: “I don’t like it; I want to be where I was ten years ago. How can you expect me to throw myself into what I don’t like–that would be sheer hypocrisy. What sense is there in taking risks and tiring myself out among people I don’t even like in a place where I have no future?”
Eugene Peterson, get out of my head! I’m guilty of saying these exact words, and for years! But, he says, we have a choice. And that is only the first path we could choose. The second is far better.
Or we can say: “I will do my best with what is here. Far more important than the climate of this place, the economics of this place, the neighbors in this place, is the God of this place. God is here with me. What I am experiencing right now is on ground that was created by him and with people whom he loves. It is just as possible to live out the will of God here as any place else. I am full of fear. I don’t know my way around. I have much to learn. I’m not sure I can make it. But I had feelings like that back in Jerusalem. Change is hard. Developing intimacy among strangers is always a risk. Building relationships in unfamiliar and hostile surroundings is difficult. But if that is what it means to be alive and human, I will do it.”
I wish I had been living like this for the past several years, rather than wallowing in self-pity and flying the flag of entitlement. This is how we live with hope in Babylon.
Peterson concludes the chapter with these wise words:
Exile is the worst that reveals the best. …Exile reveals what really matters and frees us to pursue what really matters, which is to seek the Lord with all our hearts.
I know you don’t feel it, but God is in your exile. He is with you, but the only way to find him there is to quit trying to get back to Jerusalem. Stop longing for the good old days, and live with hope in this foreign land. There is hope in Babylon because God is with you there.