Jeremiah 29 4-7
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. 6 Take 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. 7 But 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
In our story we find ourselves in the midst of Exile; all the Jeremiah had foretold has now come to pass. I imagine the shock of the Exiles – not only that this actually happened but that Jeremiah had been right all along. I can’t help but imagine who these Exiles were – that they could be addressed and warned by a Prophet only to ignore him, believing everything would be fine. These were, of course, the elite – those who had the power and wherewithal to change the status quo – to undo oppression and re-balance the fulcrum so that the society was truly just. But they didn’t, and it’s no coincidence that it was they who were carried off. This letter is not so much a word of comfort, but more of a suggestion to settle in – cuz baby, it’s gonna be awhile.
But who isn’t mentioned in this story are those who were left behind – the Remanent. What was it like for them? Where were their instructions? The Exiles are told God is with them – or at least WILL BE – bit where is God in the story of the Remanent?
Life was more difficult for them – while their Exiled brothers and sisters had relative freedom to live, to maintain their hierarchies, practice their beliefs and managed to find enough time to figure out how their religion would survive in the face of the Temple’s destruction – they were struggling to simply survive after war savaged their lands and people.
I am not trying to downplay the trauma experienced by the Exiled, rather I’m trying to give voice to the poor and marginalize that remained. Things had always been bad for them, but now it was infinitely worse. Not only were they experiencing the destruction of war, but famine, disease and utter destitution was their reality.
Like anyone – from that point to this – I’m sure they asked where God was in all of this. I am curious to hear their answer. They don’t have the guidance of their religious leaders, nor the hindsight that allows them to identify God’s presence in this midst of their suffering. They’re in the middle of what my Marine friends call ‘the suck’. I’d venture to guess that their answer to where God is would be, “I don’t know.”
So what does this have to do with us, right now, as we find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic that has us stressed, worried, unfocused and scared? Well, let me first say, “Welcome to the Suck”. All these things we feel we share with our brothers and sisters who were left behind over 2000 years ago. And I venture to guess that if we were asked where God is in all of this, we would have the same answer. I don’t know. We too don’t have the insight which post pandemic offers to recognize the hand of God in the midst of our suffering.
But maybe that’s ok. Maybe we’re allowed to stop being seminarians and theologians who are compelled to try and find God in everything by analyzing everything to death. Maybe we simply need to concede that we don’t know but have faith that God IS there…some where…through all of this. And maybe instead of wondering where God is, we enact WHO God is with loving acts of kindness and solidarity. Not only towards others but towards ourselves as well. By doing that we get the answer to the question
God is, as always, within us.