Responding to Exile

This is the 3rd post in the short series on exile, using Walter Brueggemann’s Cadences of Exile to help initiate these thoughts. Be sure to check out parts ONE and TWO on this subject, because the three posts are deeply connected.

As we’ve already discussed, there are many aspects of Old Testament exile that are true for followers of Jesus in the western world today. Though we are only in rare cases geographically taken from our homes, it continues to get more difficult for Christians to feel truly at home in society today.

Exile often feels the same as the empty beginning, awaiting the promise. Brueggemann says:

“This community (Israel)…began bereft, barren, powerless, without hope in the world. Now in exile it has become once again what it was in the beginning: bereft, barren, powerless, without hope in the world…there is only waiting and grieving and wondering…Israel hopes but does not know” (pg. 112).

Exile Responses

The difficulty of exile prompts three different responses:

1. Assimilation.

“It is possible for baptized Christians to assimilate into imperial America…to embrace the dominant American hopes and fears that are all around us, to live so that the world does not notice our odd baptism or our odd identity.”

2. Despair.

“God has failed and we are helpless. This is the temptation for those of us who know better than to assimilate, but for whom resistance is a defensive posture without buoyancy.”

3. Fresh, imaginative theological work.

“…recovering the old theological traditions and recasting them in terms appropriate to the new situation of faith in an alien culture.”

If we could track the Biblical narrative into the terms of God’s promise (covenant), moving into God’s demand (Israel in the Promised Land), moving into God’s absence (exile), then it seems clear, following this absence is a new move of God.

Go stand on the seashore, and you’ll notice for hours on end the waves seem quite similar, but if ever the water goes out further into the sea than before, you can be assured the biggest wave yet is on its way—exile means the biggest wave is on the way.

So, which response is yours?

Are you assimilating into a society moving away from God? Or are you in a state of debilitating despair?

Or are you preparing yourself for the new move of God that is ready to come crashing down on us?

Friends, I fear that all too often the response of the church is a mixture of assimilation and despair. Next week we’ll look at how to embrace the anticipation of the new move of God in an exile context.