“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:5-7 NIV
I’ve tried to sit back and be slow to respond to our country’s (and world’s, really) crisis with the coronavirus (COVID-19). With so many people self-quarantining and working from home, we have a lot of time (too much!) to post all of our opinions and “expertise” on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve attempted to observe, read, listen, and think about what is going on before I offer any kind of prepared response. It’s easy to respond emotionally and out of our bias, and I’ve tried to avoid that as much as possible. Now that our country has taken the national position that this is a pandemic, I sought out to reflect and offer a reasoned response to the situation for the five of you that follow and read my thoughts…
Back in November, I felt impressed in my prayer and study times to teach through the Book of Jeremiah for most of 2020. Jeremiah has 52 chapters, so it would be easy to dedicate one week to each chapter. We will, and have strayed from Jeremiah here and there, but I have been developing daily devotionals so that our church family can spend the entire year in the book. I felt impressed to go this route for a couple of reasons. First, I believe God was saying that while Jeremiah’s situation is NOT our situation, the cultural roots were the same. Secondly, because 2020 is an election year and will without a doubt be a very contentious one, the Church would have an opportunity to rise up and reflect the character of Christ and win back some of its lost reputation, or an opportunity to further the divide between fellow Christians first, and the divide between the Church and the culture at large.
If you know nothing about the book of Jeremiah, here is a VERY brief overview. (Check out this link for a more detailed synopsis: https://bibleproject.com/explore/jeremiah/) Jeremiah was a prophet called to bring words of warning to Israel. For hundreds of years, the nation had become apathetic, divided into two kingdoms, began aligning itself with pagan nations, and even set up idols to pagan gods in the temple, which was dedicated to Yahweh. Israel continued to ignore the warnings of God, and eventually the only course of action that would reset their mindset and begin them on the path of restoration was to allow them to be attacked by other nations. The final blow was the invasion of Babylon in the late 6th century BC that saw the city of Jerusalem and the temple destroyed.
The people were shocked, because they believed they were immune to anything bad happening to them. As long as they had the temple, they thought, they were okay. They ignored warnings of prophets like Jeremiah and instead listened to false prophets who were prophesying peace and that everything was fine. They underestimated the coming chaos, and overestimated their own security. God’ charges were not just that the people had been unfaithful, but that they wouldn’t even acknowledge their unfaithfulness. Their pride, arrogance, and selfishness led them into destruction.
At the beginning of the year, I shared with the church the reasoning behind focusing on Jeremiah for 2020, but little did I know what all 2020 would bring. Now we find ourselves in a situation in which none of us have likely experienced. We have some people overreacting in fear and panic (why the rush on toilet paper?), and others underestimating or flat out ignoring the potential seriousness of the situation. Like Israel in Jeremiah’s day, I think it is safe to say that America has been a divided “kingdom” for some time. The biggest problem with a divided kingdom is the inability to trust anyone outside of our own camp. Instead of coming together for the common good of all, everything is seen, and actions are taken through the lens of our “kingdom.” This causes us to dismiss things that come from “the other side,” and hold on to things from “our side” that may be false. This is what Israel did with the prophets – the people believed the ones that made them feel good and reinforced what they already believed, and ignored the prophets that challenged their beliefs and way of life. Let us learn our lesson quicker than they did…
Unfortunately, Israel refused to listen and the nation found itself in one of its darkest times. The city and temple were destroyed, citizens were killed, and others were enslaved. A once thriving land had become desolate and empty, and the temple in which Israel found its security became a heap of rubble and ashes. As I said, THIS is not THAT, but the root of our situation and Israel’s in quite similar. The political divide in which we find ourselves is contributing to an apathetic and resistant approach that is going to do nothing but make things worse and take longer from which to recover. We have three options: we can react in fear and panic; we can react with apathy and resistance; or we can calm down, work together for the good of us ALL and get through this with minimal damage. The storm is not on its way; it is already here. We can run and hide, put ourselves and others in harms way, or we can take the appropriate precautions. What we decide determines how effectively we can help others during this time, and when the storm passes (and it WILL pass – it always has).
Despite Israel’s ignorance, rebellion, unfaithfulness, etc., God did not abandon her. It can seem that way, but she had hundreds of years of warnings until this was the only way to reset and change what needed to be changed. Notice what God said to the nation in the midst of its heartache and destruction: He told them to settle down and not resist or rebel. Furthermore, He instructed them to seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon – the city that just destroyed Israel’s home and temple! The nerve of God, huh? God told them to pray for Babylon, its enemy. (kinda sounds like something this Jesus guy I know would say…) If it prospers, you too will prosper, God said.
Can you imagine being instructed to not fight against an enemy that just destroyed your home and way of life? Yet that’s exactly what God did. He did it, not because He didn’t care about Israel, but because HE DID care about Israel. He wanted her to prosper, but she needed a “time out” to reset her mind and remember the big picture – it’s not about just Israel. I don’t believe for one second that God orchestrated COVID-19 to infect and kill people, but I do believe He will use it to instigate change that has been needed for years. Sometimes when people need to change, but won’t, events happen that force that change to happen. Let us learn from Israel’s mistakes and not underestimate the seriousness of the situation. Neither should we react with fear and panic. Instead, let’s settle down, trust God, and pray for the peace and prosperity of our cities, nation, and world. If they prosper, so will we. If they are at peace, so to will we be. It’s not about you; it’s not about me; it’s about US – the human race, the body of Christ.
That’s just my two cents.