Last week I posted a few observations on a portion of Jeremiah 29:
4“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But 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.”
We looked at some details of the commands God gave to exiles in Babylon. Now a few notes on how it applies to us.
As for the ancient exiles, the alternative to this message is to act like “short timers.” They were being told that they would be leaving for home soon; many evangelicals teach that our time on earth will be short, so we shouldn’t plan for the long term. God’s command is to plan for the long term.
We are called to live in cities. No, not all of us. But more of us than do. The oft-cited statistic is that the US is 20% evangelical Christian, but that urban areas (dense, mixed-use, walkable) are only 2% evangelical. If that’s even sort of the case we are due for a correction. I’m in no position to tell another individual to move into a city, any more than I am in a position to tell someone to adopt a child. But I’m pretty sure more of us should live in town than currently do. And by the way, I don’t think this just means the City (Babylon, or NYC, or London). Cities of many sizes bring people into ongoing proximity that is at once very stressful and very stimulating.
We are called to have neighbors. We are not to think that corruption comes from proximity to unbelievers. As lovely as rural and suburban life can be (and can be wonderful!) the subtext of the suburbs is that people are the problem. Maybe this is built into the American pioneers spirit; I don’t know.
We are called to engage in economic activity whereby we invest ourselves in the community. This means that our well-being is very tangibly tied up in the well-being of our neighbors. When the neighborhood goes downhill, our homes drop in value. When the schools stink, we suffer – directly because our children don’t have good schools to attend, and indirectly with joblessness and youth crime. On the other hand, when we make the neighborhood a better place for all, we prosper. The ethic is the opposite of the absentee landlord, who looks at the neighborhood as a place from which to extract wealth.
We are called to cautiously identify our interests with those of the community around us. We are an “us” not only in family and church, but in neighborhood and city. To a large extent, “they” are “us.” There will be substantial, though not perfect, overlap in our goals and values with the community around us.
We are called to work for the common good at many levels of societal existence. This passage has application most immediately to living in cities. But it also applies to our professions, our workplaces, our larger civic boundaries (county, state, nation, international), and our voluntary organizations.
We are called to raise children in the midst of unbelievers. Not to hide them away, not to protect them from the corruption of the Other. Careful raising, in the fear and admonition of the Lord, is not the same as separatism. This can take many forms, practically speaking.