Living In Exile

Prepare For Exile

Patrick Whitworth, ‘Prepare For Exile’ (SPCK, 2008)

How do we relate to Christianity becoming ever more a minority in our society? Many of have lived through a dramatic change in our culture, from the church being respected to it being ignored or mocked.

One possible model from the Bible is that of ‘exile’. When the people of Judah were conquered by Babylon in the sixth century BC, many were taken by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies into forced exile. We know their pain and anguish from texts such as Psalm 137.

But the screams of agony in that psalm were, perhaps, answered by a letter the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the exiles. You can read it in Jeremiah 29. Note how he calls the exiles to settle down and have ordinary lives in Babylon. In particular, look at the startling words of verse 7:

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.

Behind ‘peace and prosperity’ is the Hebrew word shalom.  You have probably heard preachers say that this is the word for ‘peace’, but that it means so much more than the absence of fighting. It means many positive qualities: right relationships, justice, healing and so on – everything that makes for a healthy society.

The exiles were called to bless their captors, not curse them. Are we called to do the same to those today whose values and beliefs are so contrary to ours? Is this part of our mission? And what specifically would we do?

If you want to read more about this approach, an Anglican priest called Patrick Whitworth has written a book called Prepare For Exile.