Last week, we looked at Jeremiah chapter 29 and asked what the Scriptures might tell us about how God’s people should live as “exiles.” We considered the disturbing erosion of Judeo-Christian values in our nation, the race toward complete decadence in our culture, and the very real prospect of Christians becoming marginalized and even – in 21st century ways – “persecuted” for our beliefs in the not-too-distant future. And while we lament these social, political and cultural shifts in our nation and stand against these trends, we must face the realization that we are becoming exiles in our own land. If this is true, and if we are only facing the beginning of this rising tide of anti-Christian influence in our nation, then we must accept our impending “exiled residence” here as Christians.
So, what are we going to do about it?
As Christians, we view Scripture as the inspired Word of God, which is living and active, true in all that it teaches, and applicable in every part of our lives. In light of this, last week we considered God’s message, through the prophet Jeremiah, to the Israelites during the Babylonian exile. Like the Israelites, we were also shocked to learn the contents of this message and the instructions it entailed. In response to the exile, displacement, injustice and suffering they were experiencing, the counter-intuitive message summarized was: “Build houses. Plant gardens. Have babies. Live well and seek the welfare of the city.” (Jer. 29: 5-7, paraphrased)
After noting the bizarre nature of this message, we began to examine the main thrust of God’s command and arrived at two themes to which this message can be boiled down: 1. Trust the process. 2. Trust the Author. First, let’s look at what exactly we mean by trust the process.
Trust the Process. This phrase has recently become popular in professional sports as owners, administrators and players alike have encouraged fans who are unhappy with the current state of their favorite teams’ performances to trust the process. This means you believe there is a greater plan in the works, and you trust that it is right, good and will eventually produce favorable outcomes, even if the immediate circumstances seem to call for a different response.
So, what is this “process” that we as Christians should trust? God reveals that “process” to the Israelites through Jeremiah. And although He lists off several commands (none of which seem to make a lot sense at first glance), ultimately, they boil down to at least two principles we can identify: multiply and cultivate. Think about it… God tells them to get married and have kids. He says to build houses, in which these new families will live. He instructs them to plant and cultivate gardens that yield fruits and vegetables for nourishment and sustenance. And finally, He says to seek the welfare of the city so that the city and its inhabitants may prosper. In other words, multiply and cultivate.
Does this sound familiar? Does the idea of going forth and cultivating and multiplying sound like something you’ve heard before? That’s because you have heard it before. As bizarre as a set of instructions as it seems at first, God is not telling His people anything new. In fact, He’s giving them the same command He gave the very first humans to ever walk the earth: Adam and Eve.
In Genesis 1 and 2, God lays out what we have been calling the “process” for humans. He gives us our identity and our purpose and lays out the principles by which we should live our lives as humans. In Genesis chapter 1, after creating man in His image, God tells Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” This is known as the “creation mandate,” and it serves as the central purpose clause in the creation narrative. But just a few verses later, in Genesis chapter 2, we learn that this creation mandate included more than just a command to have children. In these verses we learn that the first humans, Adam and Eve, were created and then placed in a very special kind of context: a garden. And with this special placement came an accompanying responsibility: to cultivate and maintain the garden.
In these verses, found in the first passages of the entire bible, we find the all-important mandate for mankind. We find our first “great commission.” We find our purpose in this life and the instructions for how to live… We are to be people of life. In everything that we do, we should be bringing life to the world around us. Whether it’s raising families, cultivating gardens, establishing order, or bringing light from darkness and providing purpose to our surroundings and circumstances, these are our standing orders. This is the process we are called to trust, embody and live-out in whatever situation we may found ourselves.
Before God began to create the universe, there was only darkness, emptiness, chaos and lifelessness. After God worked, there was light, fullness, order and life. The Israelites found themselves in a dark and broken situation. And they cried out to God to deliver them from their suffering and their exile. And while God assured them that one day He would in fact bring them out of exile, until then, He instructed them to do just as He had commanded Adam and Eve: multiply and cultivate. Just as we were made in God’s image, we are called to reflect His image by imitating His work in creation. In order to trust the process and embody that process in our everyday lives, we have to imitate God’s actions and character, which brings us to the other side of the coin…
Trust the Author. If, in order to live our lives by this process, we have to imitate God, and in order to imitate God, we have to know what He is like, then understanding God’s character and God’s behavior becomes paramount for the Christian. And it’s here that we find that not only can we trust the process, but we can also trust the Author. Since our purpose is simply (notice I didn’t say “easily”) to imitate the creative and life-bringing nature of God’s character and actions, then the “process” is truly only as good as the Author behind it. But the beauty of Genesis 1-3 (and indeed, the whole witness of Scripture), is that it reveals the incredible character of God, and the inarguable trustworthiness of God.
We learn that God is a God of life and of goodness. We learn that He brings light from darkness and order out of chaos. We learn that He is the source of all meaning, beauty, purpose and value in the world. He sustains and “upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). And not only does He do all these great things, but, in Genesis 3, we learn of His defining feature: His love. He reveals the depth of this love for His creation through the grace and mercy He shows Adam and Eve, and His promise to one day restore and repair what they had broken in their sin. Finally, we find out in the New Testament the magnitude of this promise as God’s master plan of redemption and restoration culminates in the single greatest act of love conceivable: this very God became man. He took on the frail and fallen form of man, lived the life we couldn’t live, died the death we deserved, and rose again by the power of God – all so that we could be redeemed and live forever with Him.
Though times are difficult, and every day it seems our country and our culture strays further from God and His plan for us, we don’t have to despair. Nor should we vengefully wage war against the those who would see us marginalized and impotent. Instead, let us cling to our purpose and the mandate given to us from the beginning. May we, even as exiles, trust the process because we can trust the Author. And as we do, let our every action and word be about multiplying and cultivating life in a broken, hostile and dark context. Then, we only have to do as Jesus says in the sermon on the mount… “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”