Strangers in a Strange Land

God’s plan for believers amid America’s

frustrating cultural war

Many of my Christian friends are in despair over the results of the recent election, wondering if America will ever be the same as the great and godly nation they grew up in. The cultural winds are increasingly blowing against Biblical values, and today’s political correctness is clearly at odds with God’s view of correctness. Only half joking, some believers talk about starting a revolution or perhaps just leaving the country.

As much as I understand these concerns, I think our frustration largely stems from forgetting that there’s an inherent difference between God’s kingdom and the kingdoms of this world—even the American kingdom. Having been seduced by the myth of cultural Christianity, we forget that we are “foreigners and exiles” in this world (1 Peter 2:11). Other translations say we’re sojourners, pilgrims, aliens, or temporary residents.

Is it possible that God will use the election results to remind us that, as His Word has always taught, we are basically called to be strangers in a strange land? Could it be that we had grown too comfortable living in America?

If you’re like me, Jeremiah 29:11 is one of your favorite promises in God’s Word: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

However, as I pondered our current cultural situation recently, the Lord reminded me that we usually take this great promise totally out of context. No wonder we’re often caught off guard when His plans for us seem unexpectedly difficult.

Picture yourself in this frightening scene, which is the backdrop of Jeremiah 29:11: Your city is invaded by a fierce enemy army. You and many others are taken captive and forcibly removed to the capital city of the invading nation. But you are proud and independent-minded people, not willing to accept this fate without a struggle. Should you join together to try and overthrow the government that is oppressing you? Should you devise a plan to escape one night, either returning to your homes or finding some faraway land where you will be safe?

God has plans for His people, even at such times as this. But not everyone who claims to speak for the Lord has truly heard from Him.

In the distressing situation Jeremiah describes here and in the book of Lamentations, various people claim to have a word from God. Most advocate some form of rebellion or escape, but Jeremiah is the lone prophetic voice who offers this unthinkable advice:

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).

At such advice, you might have protested, “What! Are you saying we should just accept our captivity? And why in the world would we want to ask God to grant peace and blessing to our captors?”

Sensing that your complaints are getting you nowhere, you make one final argument: “But what about all the prophetic people who are urging us to overthrow this evil civilization we find ourselves in? They certainly seem to be in the majority!”

Again, God speaks through the lone prophet: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them” (Jeremiah 29:8-9). God goes on to say that His people might as well enjoy their time in the foreign land—for they were destined to remain there 70 years.

You see, we live our lives—our “70 years” (Psalm 90:10)—in a foreign land. Of all the nations on earth, I’m surely glad to live in America, but I need to be reminded that this country is not my true home. I’m a citizen of heaven and one of heaven’s ambassadors to a world that desperately needs to be reconciled to God (Philippians 3:20, 2 Corinthians 5:20).

So, what should be our attitude toward our leaders and the country where God has placed us to live? Will we be smugly aloof, trying to keep ourselves unstained by the evil values we perceive in our society? Will we be angry and condescending, projecting an air of superiority to unbelievers? Or will we just give up and surrender, trying so hard to be accepted by the world that we end up imitating its values?

Hopefully we’ll display the same attitude as Jesus displayed during His days on earth. Instead of staying aloof from unbelievers, He was known as “a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners” (Luke 7:34). He was able to be in the world without becoming absorbed by it. That’s why He prayed for His followers, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

Like the Israelites who were in exile in Babylon, we are living in a foreign land. But that should not be grounds for rebellion, escape or anger. Rather, we are called, as Jesus did, to take the posture of a servant. Laying aside our garments of superiority, we are to pour water into a basin and “wash the feet” of our society (John 13:1-5). And let’s not forget to pray for our nation’s political leaders—whether we voted for them or not (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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