I guess it should come as no surprise that faith in the secular Western world is maligned, cheaply maligned at that (and most of what passes for faith deserves to be)! But the more I read Scripture, the more I see what kind of faith God calls people to, and it is very exciting and will break your heart, but it is still what God calls everyone to: A life of faith, real heart wrenching, truthful faith.
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 face the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, act out of love. I don’t know why so many equate a good faithful life with living so suburbanly. I guess I’m a suburbanite myself, but I don’t want my senses dulled by the mediocrity of banality, and the claims of “life” that followers of Jesus so freely use, even if they be uttered through dry lips, from a dry tongue out of a dry heart, weary of doing ‘stuff for Jesus.’
The Exile of the Old Testament, or rather Exiles, but more specifically, the Babylonian catastrophe of 587 BC (2 Kings 25; Lamentations, Jeremiah), is a watershed moment in the history of God’s people. They were the people of Exodus, rescued from slavery and given a Promised Land. And now, centuries later, via the Babylonians, that same land vomited them out for their horrific unfaithfulness. They hadn’t just stopped being nice, they’d been killing their children and offering them in fires to vile gods. The two pillars of the Old Testament stand as witnesses to the faithfulness of God and the carnality and idolatry of man!
Exile was horrific in the ancient world. Displaced people: we see that in and around Syria and Palestine today! Some commentators suggest the Church itself is in exile. It’s not the same thing, but I suppose spiritually speaking, there’s something in it. The Church is journeying towards the city to come, as Hebrews says, our home is not here in this world, we are in exile.
And exile itself is about being where we don’t want to be with people we don’t want to be with. That itself can be a picture of church but I’ll restrain myself, we are all ‘under construction’ after all. But it does force us to make decisions that we in the church can learn from: Will we focus our attention on what is wrong and feel sorry for ourselves? Or will we work out how we can live at our best in this place?
In the biblical period of exile in Babylon, it became the catalyst for the most creative period in all of Hebrew history. They had lost everything they thought was important: Land, Temple, Priesthood, King; but instead found what truly was important – they found God.
I want to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus who will embrace everyday but not be absorbed by it. I don’t want the duties and routines to bore my faith into a pseudo-middle class conformity exercise of sweet niceness and hollow words. In exile, Israel were pushed to the edge of existence. True faith was found here. And where they thought they were hanging off the edge of the abyss by the skin of their teeth, they discovered they had in fact been pushed to the centre, where God was. This changed everything. It was no longer mere survival, but living faith-filled abundant lives with each other, with God, in exile in Babylon.
So for the church to be in exile is no bad thing. If the church continues down the road of exile, which she must, more and more of the stuff that sticks when we play religious games and go round the houses with our programs and plans, will fall away. When the superfluous is stripped away we find the essential, and the essential is God.
Normal life is full of distractions and irrelevancies until disaster strikes, an Exile of whatever shape or mode: Illness, accident, job loss, divorce, death. The reality of our lives rearranged without anyone ever consulting us or asking our permission.
What will we do with that when it comes? Complain? Escape into fantasies? Drugs? Or build, plant and marry, seeking the peace of the place we live? Exile reveals what really matters, and what really matters is to seek the Lord God with all our hearts. Everything else is guff.