Virtually every generation has one of those moments where they will forever remember what was happening when a tragedy struck. My grandparents’ generation had Pearl Harbor. My parents’ generation had the assassination of JFK. My generation has Sept. 11, 2001.
I will never forget where I was when I heard about the tragedy of airplanes flying into the World Trade Center towers in New York. After finishing a morning class in seminary, I heard rumblings of something terrible going on. I walked to my office at the student center to find out that a plane had struck a building in New York. We quickly set up a television feed in the seating area of the building, and I stood there staring at the screen for the rest of the day. I watched as the buildings crumbled to the ground. I was numb.
In the face of these once-in-a-generation tragedies, Americans have often sought peace in a return to religious roots. Church attendance increases for a period of time. Political leaders invoke the name of God to bring calm to the situation. For a moment, it seems as if the spiritual headway made during the aftermath of tragedy may lead to another Great Awakening.
Now, 15 years after the tragedy that has defined the memories of my generation, the hopes of a new Great Awakening seem a fading dream. The current state of American culture feels more like Babylon than Jerusalem. Christians may identify more with exile than with home at this point. What should Christians do on this anniversary of 9/11? How should we feel about the state of America today?
I think we can learn from the Judeans’ experience in exile to see what we should do as we look back on where we were and ahead to where we are going. When the people of Jerusalem were carried off to exile by Nebuchadnezzar, it was truly a life-altering experience that would shape the future of an entire generation.
In Jeremiah 29, we find a letter that the prophet sent to his countrymen who found themselves in Babylon. Surely they felt like their lives were over. No hope of return could have been on their minds. Instead, they were probably content to sulk and moan in the midst of exile and hope that their lives would end without too much pain and suffering. However, the Lord gave them different instructions through Jeremiah, and from these instructions, we can learn some lessons for life in our current situation.
1. Do not forsake society. In times like these, there is a great temptation toward asceticism. Retreat from society. Isolate ourselves into holy huddles. Ignore the realities of the world around us in hopes that Christ will return without any further delay. While we pray along with the Apostle John that Christ will come quickly (Revelation 22:17, 20), we need to be part of the society and live our lives so that others will see our good works and glorify our Father (Matthew 5:16).
Jeremiah told his readers, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease’” (Jeremiah 29:4-6).
Those taken into exile from Jerusalem were told to build houses, plant gardens, have children, and give them away in marriage. Basically, life was to carry on as if they had never left Jerusalem. While Christians have not been carried off into exile, our supposed Jerusalem has become Babylon under our feet. We do not experience a privileged place in culture as we once might have. The winds of change are blowing in a direction that moves away from many of our core beliefs. All the while, we should do as the Judeans did—build houses, plant gardens, live life.
Our situation was never what the people of Jerusalem experienced. They were God’s chosen people, and their nation was designed to point other peoples to the Lord. However, God has placed believers in this nation to be a light to the rest of society. We are part of this world in which God has placed us. Our status in society is growing more similar to that of the early church every day. But we must forge ahead. Do not forsake society; instead, participate in the good things of our culture and influence the people around us so that we can have the opportunity to live out our faith in the world.
2. Pray for the welfare of the city. Who in his right mind would have wanted to see Babylon succeed? Shouldn’t the people have been praying for the destruction of this unrighteous kingdom? Not according to the words of the Lord through Jeremiah. We read, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).
The welfare of the captives was tied up with the welfare of Babylon. Thus, God gave the people instructions to pray specifically for its welfare. Even though there had to be many parts of the Babylonian empire that were antithetical to the values of Judah, they were still told to pray for its welfare.
We can learn an important lesson here ourselves. We must not give up praying for the welfare of our nation. Do we want our children to live in relative peace? Would we like to reap the benefits of a healthy economy? Is the nation stronger when it is governed by people of integrity?
Peace, economic increase and honorable leadership are marks of a healthy society. These are specific things for which we can pray for our country. First Timothy 2:1–4 demonstrates how to pray for the welfare of our nation. Paul writes, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” These words reflect the ideas of praying for the welfare of Babylon that we find in Jeremiah.
Therefore, on this 15th anniversary of 9/11, take a few minutes to pray for the welfare of our nation. Pray that God would bless this land. Pray that our leaders would be honorable. Pray for peace. We as Americans must not forget that our own welfare is tied to the welfare of this nation.