this is my Father's world
“Being stuck in a place we don’t want to be, longer than we want to be there…” This was a message shared by the current president of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, John Stumbo, on a recent video message to the leadership. (https://www.cmalliance.org/video/watch/45458/?autoplay=true Here is a sermon-length message of the theme: https://soundcloud.com/northspringsalliance/john-stumbo-life-in-the-midst-of-transition-pt-2-11319)
Of course, the message to us is regarding being in various stages of lock-down in response to a pandemic, and this is remarkable in part, because it is true anywhere in the world today. However, what was fascinating was that Stumbo referenced one of the most-quoted verses in the Bible, Jeremiah 29:11 NIV “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Easy to say, ‘look on the bright side, things will get better,’ but that misses the context of the message, both to the original audience as well as I think to us.
The year of Jeremiah’s letter is some time after 597BC, when a second round of exiles had been taken captive and repatriated from Jerusalem to Babylon (2 Kings 24:10-16), and “only the poorest people of the land were left.” I think one of the things which is fascinating about this is that God’s message was not to the poor people left behind in Jerusalem. The message to them was that - unless they changed their ways - destruction was still coming. Instead, the well-known missive about hope and a future was to the exiles living in a foreign country under a ruthless, heathen king.
God makes it very clear to them: it was He that brought them there. Jeremiah 29:4 NIV reads, “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon…” In the same letter, He goes on to tell them two more times. Verse 7 refers to Babylon as “the city to which I have carried you into exile,” and in verse 14 “I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile" (emphases mine).
Sometimes we have this notion that, people being what we are, every once in a while someone goes rogue to create havoc while God has His back turned. Then, when He figures out what is going on, God must intervene – or not – to bring some order. That is not the picture we see in the Bible. Psalm 2:1-4 NIV reads:
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.
"Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters."
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
Even more specifically, Proverbs 21:1 NAS says, “The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” God makes clear that all kings, whether the anointed and appointed of Israel, or Nebuchadnezzar who carried the captives to Babylon, or later Cyrus of Persia who allowed them to return seventy years later, all are His instruments to bring about His purposes.
The question that drops on me like a ton of bricks is simply, do we ever mistake our circumstances? As difficult or depressing or even horrific our situation, what have we been rescued from, and what are we being saved to? From a loving God who:
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27 NIV)
Is the current lock-in exile a rescue from a place of impending destruction whether from a virus or economic war or some social devastation, or could it be a warning to flee a place in which we feel some arrogant entitlement that has gone rotten? The answer is likely all the above and more, because there is an eternal and spiritual dimension that rarely even gets considered.