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Our exile in Babylon

It’s time to seek the welfare of the city where God placed us

Our exile in Babylon

(Krieg Barrie)

Every week, if not every day, articles show up about Christians in a post-Christian culture. I’ve written a few, myself. Even though we saw it coming, the speed and vehemence of the “new normal” takes our breath away. We’re scrambling to find a place to stand, reassembling our ranks. If the noise temporarily settles, tempers are still frayed and feelings are on edge, just waiting to be set off again. 

Our predicament seems precariously modern: Christianity in retreat, the Bible trashed, believers on the edge of the next big social revolution nickeling and diming their possible response. What will it cost to speak out boldly? Hesitantly answer a question put to us? Raise bushels to let out a sliver of light? It’s not Stalinist Russia; no secret police will knock down doors in the middle of the night to drag subversive Christians off to prison. (Not yet, anyway, I hear the cynics muttering.) In the time-honored American tradition, the local and online community will function as secret police through shaming, shunning, or boycotting. 

All new? Jeremiah might have something to say to us from way back in sixth-century B.C. There was a roller coaster of a life: called against his inclination to prophesy, scorned in the marketplace, mocked by other prophets, thrown in a cistern, kidnapped and dragged off to Egypt, finally released to end his days in a demoralized Jerusalem, shadowed by the ruins of Solomon’s once-glorious temple. The best of the city’s sons and daughters had been carried off to Babylon, and rumors of their despair reached his ears: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1). 

But Jeremiah had it on good authority that destruction and exile were God’s will until judgment ran its course. The prophet called for parchment and ink and wrote to the exiles with instructions from the Lord: Settle down, plant gardens, build houses, get married. “[M]ultiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:6-7).

When we feel most like scurrying for cover is probably the very time we should be out and about, for ‘the love of Christ controls us,’ and the city’s welfare is in our hands. 

Today, Babylon has come to us. “Our country,” as we fondly imagined it, has been hijacked by foreigners—or at least, their way of thinking is foreign and makes no sense to us. But it was always inevitable that “we the people” would evolve into something other than our 18th-century forefathers. The last 20 years—actually much longer—have been a tug-of-war between progressive and traditional worldviews, and the balance may well have tipped. We (meaning the American evangelicals who form the bulk of this magazine’s readership) are facing exile from the public square.

Jeremiah warns us against despair. In time God will restore all things, in our weary world or the world to come. Today’s Babylon will go the way of ancient Babylon, but Jerusalem remains forever. Meanwhile, we have the days allotted to us in a city called America. Pollyanna-types say, Better to light a candle than curse the darkness. God says, This is my world, and I’m in control. Seek the welfare of the city where I placed you

This doesn’t have to look “religious.” Volunteer at the library (or local historic site, or museum). Organize a neighborhood block party or start a community garden. Get to know your children’s teachers. Say hello to strangers and offer help where you can. The actions of a Christian and of a secular, public-spirited citizen may look the same, but in long-term effect, and the motivation to keep going in spite of insult and opposition, Christians hold the advantage. When we feel most like scurrying for cover is probably the very time we should be out and about, for “the love of Christ controls us,” and the city’s welfare is in our hands.

Email jcheaney@wng.org

Comments

  • hawaiicharles
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:09 pm

    Thanks for the reminder.  I admit I have at times fallen into despair as I watch my culture crumble around me.  But on the other hand I see a time coming in which God will purify and refine His church.  May we remain true.

  • Peter James
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:09 pm

    Thank you Janie, the last few sentences were really moving to me. I have volunteered for a homeschooling conference and this Friday for the first time, I am volunteering for a local non profit that helps the environment as well as puts on great community events. I wasn't sure if I should as a Christian be volunteering at a secular event, but your last few sentences really helped me to see that I can be a blessing to others no matter what the organization!  God Bless - Peter James

  •  Neil Evans's picture
    Neil Evans
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:09 pm

    Reading about Babylon and living there are surely different.  The only way to really be prepared to live there is to live following Jesus in Jerusalem.  Even Jesus, who knew perfectly the trouble that awaited Him, agonized in the time of it's arrival.Your advise, in addition to being Biblical, is very simple in that it asks of us only that we faithfully follow Jesus in the moment to moment unfolding of our days.

  • Laneygirl
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:09 pm

    A timely word, thank you! The most impactful to me was your point about how the actions of secular and Christian citizens alike can be nearly undetectable, but their motivation and their continuation will be the truth teller. 

  • Jim Venable
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:09 pm

    Janie,I am not sure how to voice my response to your words. For the most part I agree that we are to not shrink from our commitment to being light in practical, loving ways to our Biblical "neighbors".  I also beleive that we are commanded by our constitution to be politcally active at all levels, only disobeying mans' laws only when they are insubordinate to God's laws.Also, I believe the Church must be devoted to prayer. While we can look to Jeremiah, among others, as "all Scripture is given" we mustn't believe that history is circular, but it is linear. All history is pointed to Christ's return and the end of this heaven and earth.In saying all of that, I am not certain that Babylon is the correct comparison. As barbaric as the Babylonians and Persians were, for the most part, it appears Jews were allowed to live their own lives according to their own customs, outside of Temple worship. I believe our time is more comparable to late first and second century Rome, in line with my understanding of the Church depicted in Revelation. Are we ready? "Even so, come Lord Jesus."

  • M2
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:09 pm

    Thank you for this encouraging clarion call.

  •  Ngozi's picture
    Ngozi
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:09 pm

    Thank you.

  •  mizpahlady's picture
    mizpahlady
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:09 pm

    Thank YOU.  It's the speed at which it has happened that we are unprepared to deal with.  Every day it's something else. 

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:09 pm

    Very well spoken, Janie. This is the second time in less than a week that I have heard this same argument. The first time was from a pastor at a "solemn gathering" for prayer. I agree with every bit of what you wrote. One thing about pendulums--they always swing back, and when this one does, it would be great if we as Christians might be known as the loving people who always helped and refreshed others in time of need and with the good news of Jesus Christ.