I have been thinking a lot about Jeremiah lately. There is a good book by Eugene Peterson called Run With the Horses. He uses Jeremiah’s life to speak to us on a personal level. The book is devotional and homiletical. But it is usually in touch with the historical reality of Jeremiah and his times.
In regard to Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in chapter 29, Peterson talks about how we also relate to the exile situation whenever we have to be where we don’t want to be or with people we don’t want to be with.
He speaks of how illness, accident, job loss, divorce, and death all make exile-like situations for us. Jeremiah’s advice to embrace the place of exile (29:5-7) seems counter intuitive. We want to get back to our old, normal situation. But the very strangeness of the new place can open up a new reality for us. A time in exile can be good for us.
Peterson summarizes Jeremiah’s message to the exiles this way:
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. You didn’t do it when you were in Jerusalem. Why don’t you try doing it here, in Babylon? Don’t listen to the lying prophets who make an irresponsible living by selling you false hopes. You are in Babylon for a long time. . .The only place you have to be human is where you are right now. The only opportunity you 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.
So the exiles in Babylon at first were like many people today. They sat around whining about their misfortune and what was wrong with the world. They were eager to listen to unrealistic hopes (Jeremiah 27 and 28). Jeremiah threw cold water on all that and told them to build and plant and marry–to seek the well-being of the very culture they were at odds with.
It is a bracing message. Perhaps nothing will get better politically or culturally for generations to come. So should we give up and opt out of society? No. Jeremiah saw the exile as an opportunity to turn back to relying on God rather than politics or culture.