Eugene Peterson’s book, “Run with the Horses”, based on Jeremiah, was the foundation and inspiration for this article.
Believe it or not, trouble and hardship don’t have to ruin our lives. We can live well under the most difficult circumstances. It can even bring the best out of us.
The coronavirus crisis has caused the most massive upheaval any of us have ever experienced. It feels like overnight we’ve been dragged off into exiled! We’re no longer in control. All the ways we’ve been used to finding life, security, and connection, have vanished. That’s the way exile is. It’s traumatic, disorienting, and frightening.
The basic meaning of exile is that you’re forced to be where you don’t want to be. You’re no longer ‘at home’. You’re a stranger in a strange and frightening place. Ironically, this strangeness can open up a whole new way looking at life that can bring maturity and freedom.
Israel experienced a violent and extreme form of exile. They had strayed from God so he allowed the Babylonians to capture Jerusalem and deport all its residents. I can only imagine how they felt being forced to spend and extended time with people they didn’t like, in a place they didn’t want to be, under conditions they didn’t what to be in.
They complained bitterly and wallowed in self-pity. Their religious leaders were of little help. They just fueled their discontent with false hope: “Don’t worry God told us this will end soon.” But this didn’t help, it just made them lose touch with their reality.
But God gave the prophet Jeremiah a message. They were not to pay attention to the so-called know-it-alls. He was in control. They were to trust and live their everyday lives as safe and productively as possible, as if this would be their new normal for the foreseeable future.
10-11 … “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.
12 “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.
13-14 “When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. (Jeremiah 29:10-14, The Message)
They were to live life right where they were, which wasn’t their preferred place but it was a place. They needed to understand that their life counted in exile just as much as it did when they were in Jerusalem. Babylon wasn’t their choice but it’s what they had been given. They were to quit sitting around feeling sorry for themselves. Their situation wasn’t going to change any time soon so they were to get on with life and make the best of it.
I’m reminded of something Eugene Peterson wrote: The whole point of being a person of faith is not to be as comfortable as possible but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible right where you are.
This is the challenge we’re facing right now. We have to keep informed but we not live off the constant fear-inducing headlines and news reports. We’re to get God’s perspective by praying and meditating on his Word, so we can find life amid the conditions and circumstances imposed on us.
Exile forces a decision: Will I focus my attention and energy on the chaos and despair or on how best to live in the place and conditions I find myself right now? Far more important is finding God in this place. After all, he’s there with me.
“Seek me and you’ll find me… I’ll show up and care for you.”
Because God is with us, it’s just as possible to live out his will in exile, as it is any place else.
The Jewish exiles responded! Jarred out of normalcy by their exile, they embarked on a search. They settled down to find out what it meant to be God’s people in the place they didn’t want to be. And surprisingly, this became one of the most spiritually and creatively rich periods in Israel’s history. They lost everything that they thought was important and found what was important: they found God!
You’ve been exiled by the coronavirus. There’s nothing you can do about that. What will you do? Waste your time longing to be someplace else? Wallow in misery and despair? Escape into fantasy? Get comfortably numb? Or embark on a search to find God and let him use you to bring his love and peace in creative Spirit-inspired ways to the people you’re exiled with?
In your exile, trust God. Let him reveal to you what really matters and free you to pursue what really matters, which is simply to seek him with all our hearts and energy wherever you are.