King Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem, surrounded it, and destroyed it, and took the Jews into exile. They were forced to live in a foreign place against their will.
The question becomes, how does God want them to live while in exile? Assimilate into the culture and become just like everyone else? Rebel and fight against the oppressive government and against those who are exiling you? What did God tell the Jews in Babylon to do?
He told them, you’re right, this is not your home, but I want you to live here. You don’t belong here, but I need you to live here. He said he didn’t want them to live there half-heartedly, but to actually live there. Jeremiah 29 says, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters … that you may increase there, and not decrease.”
God is saying I know you feel homeless, I know you feel like you don’t belong here, and that’s true, but don’t put off living while you’re homeless. Then He goes further and says, “Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive. Pray to the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall you have peace.”
This is the same perspective as Jesus’s. He said to pray for them that persecute you. It’s the same perspective as Daniel’s. He did what Jeremiah said to do. What does that look like for us? Are we living a homeless life constantly looking around the corner, looking for the next thing—looking for “something” that’s just over the horizon? When we live like that, we take ourselves out of here and now by telling ourselves that the future is when life will really start. We have all our reasons, our excuses, our arguments, but God was saying then that’s a distraction from what He was calling them to do. Sure, you don’t belong here, this not your home, but you are not here by mistake—so you need to live here.
The Jews then accepted what Jeremiah told them, that their exile was not an accident. In fact, Prophets had for years before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem said that it was going to happen. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, they all referred to Nebuchadnezzar as the Lord’s servant—not because Nebuchadnezzar was a good guy, not because Nebuchadnezzar believed in the Lord, not because they were friends, but because God was saying He was going to use this bad man and the dominating Empire of Babylon for His good purposes. God can use anything, and God will use everything, to bring about the good.
Everything that happens, happens under the will of God. Some of what happens is God’s perfect will, like making the world good and making human beings good. That’s God perfect will, part of his perfect plan, but there are those who say “no.” So because of that God has not only His perfect will, He also has his permitted will. God will permit bad things to happen, but He allows them to happen to preserve man’s free will so we can continue to choose the good, and because He knows that He can use it to bring about a greater good.
The exile was not an accident. God was punishing Israel, but even more than that He was saving them by letting them experience the consequences of their decisions. The pain in the world gives some people their only opportunity to make amends. It removes the veil and plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul. Pain wakes us up.
God whispers to us in our pleasures. He speaks to us in our conscience. But He shouts to us in our pain. Pain is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
— C.S. Lewis
This is why while you’re in exile you need to learn not to compromise and assimilate and not to rebel, but to build homes and plant gardens and live as My chosen people, even though you’re not living at home.
You’re homeless to learn how to live by faith. God is not absent. He is not passive. He’s present even if we wish we weren’t where we are, even when we wish our circumstances or our situation were different.
There’s a scene in the movie Lord of the Rings. It’s a conversation between Frodo and Gandalf. Frodo is feeling crushed by the fact that he’s far from home and there’s no guarantee that he will ever get back. The burden of carrying the ring was weighing him down. He looked to Gandalf and says, “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had ever happened.” But Gandalf looked at him and said, “So do all who live to see such times. But it is not for them to decide. All we must decide is what to do with the time that we’ve been given.”
This perspective changes everything. It doesn’t make evil things good; it doesn’t make suffering not suffering, but it does make it so that we have the perspective that God can use anything, and that God will use everything for our good. God is using what you are going through. Make your perspective such that God can use it, that you’re called to live here and now.
But do you ask why? The last word, after God says to build houses, plant gardens, to increase, and to seek the peace of the land where He had caused them to be carried away captive was, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you.”
God will use anything and everything, not to punish your flaws, but to reveal your beauty, and ultimately, He will bring us home. In the sovereign will of God this isn’t just happening to you, it’s happening for you.
— Fr. Mike Schmidt