On these temporary shores, followers of Christ often feel out of sorts, out of place, out of step with the culture around us. There’s a simple reason. We are not home yet.
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:11-12
This fall my daughter is living and studying in the Middle East. She’s traveled quite a bit, but never to a culture quite as foreign to her American Deep South sensibilities. It’s such a dynamic shift, her professor asked her to devote an hour of college credit to a class that would solely prepare her for this new world. She learned everything from how to walk down a street to how to dress to how to buy groceries at the market. Everything about this place would be strange and unfamiliar. It invites lots of potential for embarrassment and awkwardness, and the possibility of conflict and danger if she doesn’t abide by cultural norms. Norms that don’t come naturally to her experience and instinct. Norms that make her feel uncomfortable and ill-at-ease. There’s also a spiritual weight to this place; a heaviness; a darkness; that already feels weighty. She is a stranger in a strange land.
What she is experiencing is a small reflection of what followers of Christ often feel in this world. It just doesn’t feel quite right. Our souls tell us there must be more, and the Word assures us there IS more for those who recognize their sin and accept the gift of grace and forgiveness offered in Jesus. (Romans 10:9;13) But what about the here and now? We’ve been exiled in the desolate place, but, if we’re in Christ, we’re not left alone. Never alone.
Let’s take apart this verse from 1 Peter 2:11-12:
Peter is talking to those in Christ, when he says “beloved” he is speaking to those who have accepted the gift of salvation in Christ, and can now call God their Father. When we are in Christ we can call God our Father. Because we have become beloved children of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:15-17).
Sojourners here means foreigners, strangers, resident aliens. Exiles means temporary residents or refugees. Christians are not in our permanent location; not in the place we were meant to inhabit.
And because we are not home, our soul is still divided between the reality of our exiled location, and the reality of our permanent dwelling place. Evil is present in this culture. It is a part of our existence here. And because we still live in this place inhabited by evil, we aren’t immune to its effects. But Peter says we’re to not give in to our flesh, to the temptations that make us more at home in the place we don’t belong. And most importantly, we need to stand firm in what is true so that others (the Gentiles) can see who God is through our very lives and they will glorify God by finding their way to Him through how we live. Ultimately, we want to take everyone we possibly can into exile with us.
Lately, I’ve been reading through Jeremiah with brand new eyes. Putting followers of Christ in the place of these exiled Israelites. So many of those beautiful promises God gave to the Israelites as they were struggling to assimilate to foreign cultures while longing for their true home, are even more powerful when I apply them to Christians exiles.
“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
“You will seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
When we read these as aliens and strangers and exiles ourselves, the reality that the future and the hope we have isn’t in this world. It is in Christ. It is in heaven. It is in eternity. We find that future and hope by looking for the ancient paths, by seeking God with all our heart, when we seek we find that all we ever longed for is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
That seeking though begins with a longing, a gnawing that we were not meant for this place. An uncomfortableness, an unsettledness. As C.S. Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that we were made for another world.”