To the people of Israel being sent into exile, the prophet Jeremiah sent a message from God: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.” He tells them to build houses, do work, and nurture families. He tells them to pray for the Lord’s blessing on the foreign land to which they’re sent.
It’s a bit of a strange instruction, isn’t it? They are to seek the good of the pagan land that has wrecked and ravaged their land and either slaughtered or carried off their people?
The word for “welfare” here is rich with meaning. It’s the Hebrew word shalom, which has a holistic picture of peace, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, security, and health. “Seek shalom for the city where I send you,” he says.
In the New Testament, Christians are said to be in exile. Peter calls the believers to whom he writes “sojourners and exiles” (see 1 Peter 1:1, 2:11). There is a clear understanding that we are to be involved in the world, even honoring the government in place, while retaining a deep awareness that we are citizens of a different land. This is not where our hope lies. This is not where our confidence lies. This is not where our loyalty lies.
And in a nation where political parties and nationalism can easily become couched in religious language and where there has been such fear and hatred slung in one direction or another, I find this truth to be comforting, refreshing, and confronting. This is not my home. My allegiance rests with a King who is good and wise and powerful.
I seek the good of this “city” which I now call my home (and we all have different visions and understandings of how practically to live this out). I invest my time, my energy, my livelihood, my family, and my prayers. I build relationships and work hard and creatively engage in civil and cultural activities. But, Lord, may I never forget my rightful King and the Kingdom to which I belong.
Our loyalty calls us to something higher and more overarching than our particular country or our political leanings. It calls us to be a peculiar people, who look different and sound different than others around us. It calls us to welcome the Kingdom Jesus Christ won for us—the Kingdom of mercy and justice, love and compassion, holiness and grace—even if we still longingly wait for it to break fully into our world.
For as Christians, we belong to another land, another king, another kingdom. While we’re here in our exile, we are to seek the good of this “city.” But far be it from us, as Christ’s followers, to forget what Kingdom we are truly part of or where our allegiance lies.