reflections on exile, part two: God of exile, subversion, resistance

I want to clarify some of the claims I made in a previous post. Some people are just now picking up the narrative, “we are in exile.” Others have been trying to use this narrative in the way I am using it. Some of these have recently decided to give up the narrative because of the way it is being misused in North American Evangelicalism. While I sympathize with them, I am not yet ready to give up the language of “exile.”

When I made the claim that Christians are in exile, I was precisely not communicating the belief that now, in November 2016, Christians in the USA have gone into exile. Instead what I mean is that Christians have always been in exile. I merely contextualized this claim for current events, putting it up against the 2016 US General Election.

Further, God has always been, in a sense, in exile. When Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden, God went with them into exile. When Cain was exiled to the land of Nod (“the land of wandering”), God put a sign on him to protect him; in other words, God went with him into exile. When the Israelites were exiled to Egypt by the famine, God went with them and suffered with them under the cruelty of Pharaoh and his people. When God freed the Israelites from Egypt, they worshiped a golden calf, choosing it as their king and sending God into exile. When the Israelites by this deed earned the Sinai exile, God went with them, wandering for 40 years with them.

I hope that’s enough examples for you to see my point. God is a God of exile.

When the Israelites were conquered by Babylon and looked to the prophet Jeremiah for a word from God as to what to do next, this is what Jeremiah wrote:

“The LORD of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims to all the exiles I have carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away. Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because your future depends on its welfare. The LORD of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims: Don’t let the prophets and diviners in your midst mislead you. Don’t pay attention to your dreams. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I didn’t send them, declares the LORD.” (29:4-9, Common English Bible).

Notice what God did not say through Jeremiah: fight for cultural influence; fight for your values to become law of the land; fight for your people to have the power and authority to make decisions for all people in the land. Instead, God tells them to work for the good of the city in which they are exiled. Live peacefully in exile.

And resist. Ignore the false prophets and diviners who are part of the religious system of the Empire. I, God, did not send them.

This is exactly what Peter was getting at in 1 Peter 2 when he wrote, “Dear friends, since you are immigrants and strangers in the world, I urge that you avoid worldly desires that wage war against your lives. Live honorably among the unbelievers.” (2:11-12a). Peter alludes to exile in order to show Christians that they are foreigners in the world, visitors in exile from the Garden. As Jeremiah told the Israelites in Babylon, so Peter tells the Christians to work for the good of the city in which they are exiled.

And resist. Peter goes on to describe living as a Christian in this world: submitting to human institutions, but doing so in a way subversive to the values of said institutions. In the ancient Roman world respectable teachers would not have addressed slaves nor women, yet this is precisely who Peter addresses first: slaves are to submit to their masters with the knowledge that their masters are subject to God, and in so doing the slave subverts the master’s authority and gets involved in the long, slow, steady work of transforming the master-slave relationship from within. Similarly, Peter addresses wives before husbands, upsetting the traditional hierarchical gender roles. Wives are told to submit to their husbands not to keep up the status quo but to engage in the long, slow, steady work of subversively transforming the husband-wife relationship from within.

As Christians, we are in exile in the world. Christians in the USA are in exile in precisely the same way Christians in Japan, Australia, France, Kenya, and Afghanistan are in exile. Christians have always been, and— until the Second Coming of Christ— will always be in exile. This has nothing to do with elections or Supreme Court decisions, and has everything to do with being citizens of the Garden, exiled in the world.

We settle down in the land under the control of the Empire, build homes and families in the land under the control of the Empire, but we reject the temptations of the Empire, resist the religious systems of the Empire, and subvert the values of the Empire.

Get involved in the long, slow, steady work of transformation from within.

Work for the good of the city in which you are exiled. And resist.

2 thoughts on “reflections on exile, part two: God of exile, subversion, resistance

  1. Hi JAMES! I appreciate your writings. Thank you for sharing. I’m still a bit confused… I only read these 2 articles. What exactly are you implying? That Christians didn’t need to vote for Trump in order to still have their values and rights preserved?

    I fear that first world U.S. Christians today will now stay stagnant and just hunker down “in their cities” and make selfish decisions based on their immediate needs and not actually take action on choosing what is right for the world as a whole… like good Samaritans should do. What do you think?

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    1. Hey! Hope you are well. Thanks for your questions, Alexa. I borrowed the term “city” from Jeremiah, but what I am actually trying to get at is what Peter was getting at in 1 Peter 2 where he talks about being exiles in the world, not just in a specific city. My hope is to push Christians all over the globe, not just in the USA, to work for the good of the world in which they are exiled. That certainly involves working for the good of specific cities, but never in a selfish, narrowly-minded fashion. I can see where it might get confusing for me to use “city” and “world” almost as synonyms in these posts. Sorry!
      As to your questions about voting: I cannot in good conscience equate a vote for Trump, OR a vote for Clinton, as a vote for Christianity, or as a vote for the preservation of Christian values and rights. And I don’t think the Church, the global body of Christ, really needs any nation’s government to help it preserve its values. Instead, regardless of the values supported by a governmental institution, Christians can and should continue to live as Christians.
      I hear from some anti-Trump groups that his election indicates a movement of US Christians into exile. Similarly, I hear Trump supporters claiming that a Clinton election would have pushed US Christians into exile. I disagree with both ideas precisely because Peter and other biblical writers seem to say all Christians are in exile in the world, in exile from the Garden. To use exile as a description of the state of the USA at this time is simply a false claim in my opinion, and a dangerous misuse of the biblical exile narrative. It pushes historically disenfranchised groups out of the picture entirely, and it equates Christianity with North American Evangelicalism when in fact it is much larger and more diverse than that. Exile is simply part of Christian identity.

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