Since I was lame and didn’t write about Daniel last week, I thought to myself, “Hey. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were all buddies so why not just kill two birds with one stone…err…blog? Trademark blog salvaged. Winning!” Let’s do this!
While there are quite a few things that one could ponder about these four friends while sitting on the front porch with a pipe in one hand and a scotch in the other, I thought we would settle on an overarching theme of the Bible: exile.
Exile is huge in the Biblical narrative. It begins at, well, the beginning with humanity being exiled from the garden. Certain characters are exiled at some point in their lives including Esau, Jacob, and David to name a few. As a nation, Israel found itself in exile quite a bit, most notably to Egypt and then to Babylon which is where we have left of with Daniel and his three buddies.
Now imagine the exiled Israelites in Babylon when they finally are issued a decree that says that they can return home. Home! Out of exile! They return to their land jubilant. Their God has provided them with the homecoming they had been waiting for! They can rebuild the Temple and renew their covenant with God! Yet…they continually find themselves over-lorded by other nations. Their rebuilt Temple, the center of their worship, is second at best to the original. They are left wanting.
Fast forward to Jesus’ time and the stamp of the Roman Empire is everywhere. You walk down the street and see soldiers, tax collectors, and Roman puppet-Kings reminding you that Caesar is Lord of the land. You look at your own people and you see corrupt Jewish leaders, hypocritical Pharisees, the sick and poor being crushed under the weight of injustice, and so on. You can still feel yourself in exile…even though you are technically ‘home’. Things aren’t the way they should be if you were actually home. Which is why the Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah, the one that would bring God’s kingdom, and make everything right again, and then, finally, exile would be over. They would really be home.
Exile often is read as an individual or group being exiled to somewhere, meaning displaced physically to a different territory so that the individual or group is no longer where we would call ‘home’. The Bible, as you might have been able to tell, is much more nuanced than this. Exile is a term that can encompass anything that is not right, not as it should be. In the garden, humanity walked with God and lived in perfect harmony with each other and with creation. One could go even deeper and say that each human was right with themselves. They had no shame. They weren’t afraid. The psychological issues people have today were non-existent then. But then they were exiled and everything unraveled. Exile displayed itself in the inability for humanity to relate to God, to others, to creation, and to themselves.
Let’s step away from all this history and theology for a second and consider us in today’s world. Question yourself: What do you see that is wrong with the world? What sets you off and frustrates you the most? How do things seem not as they are supposed to be? Is it war, economic inequality, or environmental destruction perhaps?
What about America or the valley we live in? Politics? The red versus blue divide? Unemployment? Abortion? Education systems?
How about our families? Divorce? Domestic abuse? Verbal and psychological abuse? Alcoholism?
Hitting closer to home…what about you and me? Pride? Lust? Selfishness? Hate? Depression?
As you think on these things, consider this quote from Timothy Keller: “Home is a place where life fully flourishes—spiritually, physically, and socially. It is, therefore, a place of rest and shalom. It is a place where physical life and health is sustained, where our most intimate love relationships are nurtured. The story of the human race, however, is one of exile and a longing for homecoming. Death and disease have marred and ruined God’s good physical creation. Also, society is a Babel—selfishness and pride, exploitation and violence mar and ruin human community. The world as it is is not our home. We were made for a place without death or parting from love, without decay, disease and aging. We are, therefore, ‘exiles’ and ‘aliens’ here. Why? Because the human race turned from God to live for themselves, and, therefore, were turned out of the Garden of God and banished from the face of God, our true home. We are alienated from God, our true selves, one another, and from the creational environment.”
So. How can we return home? We find our answer in Jesus. In Philippians 2, we find that Jesus left his perfect home and came to Earth where he spent his time homeless (Matthew 8:20) and was then crucified outside the city gates, a sign of exile and rejection (Hebrews 13:11-12). On the cross he was exiled from God’s presence, forsaken by God, taking our penalty, our exile for having “turned from God to live for ourselves”. His resurrection puts on display for all the world to see that evil and death has been defeated, a sign of the future reconciliation of all of creation back to God. The way it was meant to be. A future reconciliation that also meets us in the present. THAT is why we don’t have to feel at a loss for all that we see wrong with the world. THAT is why we can return home.