Exile, whether literal or figurative, self-imposed or forced, is at the root of spiritual growth and maturity. It is when we are in exile that we wrestle with the “big” issues in life. Who am I? Who is God? Why am I in this place? Does anyone care that I’m in this place? Jeremiah, the prophet tells us that God says to us, “Call to me and I will answer and tell you great unsearchable things you do not know.” Exile forces us to ask the deeper questions, and God promises an answer. One thing I will say is certain: once you’ve been exiled, you can never go home again.
The patriarch Jacob offers insight into the overall sense of complacency that the Israelites had just prior to their exile in 597BC. God established a covenant with Abraham, to him and all his descendants afterward. Jacob, born two generations later, understood the covenant and grew up under it but never quite grasped the impact.
I read the narrative of Jacob and imagine he grew up with a sense of self-importance and entitlement. The arrogance of his actions supports my assumption. However, there comes a time when every person must wrestle with the faith of their heritage, and/or lack thereof, to conclude their own theology. For Jacob, this meant literally wrestling with God. Once he emerged from the wrestling match, Jacob was impacted physically and spiritually. Shortly after, Jacob sets up an altar and calls it God of the God of Israel. God became personal to him.
Humanity has been exiled, restless and scattered almost since the beginning of our story. Is it a problem for humanity? Yes. We want to get back to the place where we feel at home. Is it a problem for the Lord? No. He is our covenant God and he will bring a full resolution, and along the way, he wants to journey with us. And he doesn’t want us to return to what was broken; he wants to bring us to a new place – the place where he dwells, which is why we can’t go home as we knew it.
For the Israelites, his presence was carried in the Arc of the Covenant, and now it is within our spirit. The presence is with us and our purpose is to go, keep moving. To cease striving [to go back home] and beginning knowing [the hope of our new home]. The place we are moving toward is new creation, the kingdom of heaven, not what has already been created and what we can see with our eyes. Can we go back to the place we started? No, we can never go [to the old] home again.
“If you have ever had the vision of God, you may try as you like to be satisfied on a lower level, but God will never let you.” ~Oswald Chambers
Do you feel like you are living in exile? What does going home mean to you?