I need to give my initial disclaimer; this post is appearing on “the green room” which is a blog by the students and alumni of Eternity Bible College. These are my opinions and in no way does what I write in this series exclusively express the positions of Eternity Bible College’s students, staff or alumni. My hope is that if students, staff or alumni disagree with me, we could do what Christians out to do, to dialogue in a healthy, scripturally based manner.
In my last post I argued against the popular argument that as Christians, specifically in this year’s election, we need to choose the “lesser of two evils.” Today I want to address another theme I’ve seen come up in these conversations.
There is another line of reasoning I’d like to push back on. Those who simply argue that voting is a Christian duty tend to quote Jeremiah 29:7. Here, Jeremiah encourages Israel, who is about to go into Babylonian exile, to “seek the good/welfare of the city (Babylon).” The logic that I’ve seen applied then is, “seeking the good of the city” means we need to vote in American democratic elections. So is that what it means? Does “seeking the good of the city” mean we need to vote? In short, no, it does not necessarily...
When we seek to understand Scripture in its historical and grammatical context we seek to be fair to the authors who wrote it and the people to whom it was written. A popular Christian theologian says, “Scripture is the writing of real people, in real-time, writing about real life” therefore we mustn’t rip verses from their intended context.
There is nothing in the text even remotely implies that seeking the good/welfare of the city means we vote in a democratic election. The thing is, most of us would be quick to correct someone who quoted Jeremiah 29:11 as a promise given directly to them, so why are we okay with directly applying the commands of Jeremiah 29:7 only 4 verses earlier? Not only does saying that Jeremiah 29:7 means, “we need to vote” employ some sketchy Bible interpretation, most of us don’t even think that chapter applies directly to us … except for once every four years, of course. However, I do think there is an underlying principle in Jer. 29:7 that carries some validity for New Covenant believers.
Unfortunately, the argument that we need to vote in the upcoming election is an argument that’s far more rooted in an allegiance to the teachings of American democracy then it is an allegiance to the teachings of Jesus. We have to understand that in most of history this idea of “voting for your leader” was not part of the discussion. In the time Jeremiah 29:7 was written the leaders were evil, power hungry, genocide-causing dictators who placed themselves in power, they were not voted into power. The idea of a democracy was nothing but a joke, a silly peasant-lead coo that would have been immediately squashed. Shortly after Jesus’ time, the leaders of the nation that ruled over the first Christians (Rome) were the same leaders who publically slaughtered Christians, tarring them and lighting them on fire to illuminate their gardens at night, there wasn’t even the semblance of the concept that if you didn’t like a national leader you could simply vote him out of office 4 years later.
Therefore we are forced to ask the question, “Since for thousands of years what it meant to seek the good/welfare of the city was something different than voting in a democratic election, what does it mean to seek the good/welfare of the city?”
Before we move on, I do understand the argument, the good of the city is more or less determined by the city’s (nation’s) leader, if we have the opportunity to put a good leader in power, then we are seeking the good of the city…” However, before we jump to the conclusion that Jeremiah 29:7 was written with no meaning to Jeremiah’s readers, or even the early church for that matter but was written for Americans voting in democratic elections, let’s push pause on that thought.
What does it mean to seek the good of the city?
We have to ask the question, “Since Jeremiah 29 was not written in a democracy like America today, what did seeking the good of the city actually mean for the original audience and what might it mean for us today?” In the immediate context of 29:7, verses 4-6 give us a glimpse into what it might have actually looked like to seek the good of the city. Israel was to “build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce … multiply there, and do not decrease.” Seeking the good of the city was to live in and amongst the people with whom God sent them into exile. Side note, is it a consequence then that in triune-God’s effort to seek our good, Jesus incarnationally lived in and amongst us?
The idea of Israel living in and among Babylon makes perfect sense if we understand that the people of God had a better way of life than other Ancient Near Eastern cultures. The Hebrew’s book of the law (the Torah) created a culture in which Israel’s treatment of outsiders, a posture towards women, children and slaves, concepts of blood sacrifice and their care for the poor and lowly was far superior and just than the practices of other Ancient Near Eastern cultures. As Israel faces the ultimate consequence of disobedience to the covenant (exile) they are still called to conduct their lives according to their relationship with the creator God. Israel’s “better way of life” is to be lived for the purpose that they might be a blessing to other nations, even their enemies, even the very nation that is exiling them!
The same is true of Christians today. The Kingdom culture which begins to be defined by the “one another’s” of the New Testament ought to be present in every fellowship of believers and this Kingdom culture actually is a better way of living life. Despite the fact that we are in “exile” if you will, we are still called to conduct our lives according to the covenant under which we live. Living out Yahweh’s values, Kingdom values is what it means to seek the good of the city. Christians live under the New Covenant, poured out by Christ’s blood. A covenant that is characterized by humility, grace, peace, and love. A covenant that cares for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, the poor. A covenant that desires for men to work, care for their families and contribute the community. A covenant that turns the tables of wealth upside down in order to ensure the proper care of every creature that bears the Image of the living God; this is how we ought to live and seek the good of the city. Inherently the very fabric of the Christian life seeks the good of the city through simply living by Kingdom cultural values in and amongst the peoples of our nation.
Take a look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, imagine if the Church sought the good of the city while living amongst her through the humble road of the Kingdom of heaven rather than the pompous road of the dictator. We say that we want to seek the good of the city and that’s why we vote but most of the American Church fails to seek the city’s good through the means that Jesus prescribes. We prefer to “seek the good of city” through a distant, social-media blaring means rather than through the compassionate, loving and gracious means of the incarnation.
There is a fundamental problem when “seeking the good of the city” almost exclusively means we need to vote (because I’ve rarely heard this verse quoted outside of voting in an election…) The problem is that it places far too much trust and promise in the government to be the means of creating “good for the city.” This isn’t to say that Christians should just abstain from voting when it is appropriate, however, we must be careful when our American ideology is inserted into the white space of Scripture, defining the means of seeking others’ good. The American worldview would tell us that the ultimate catalyst for change, for seeking the city’s good is through participating in an election through voting; the Christian worldview would suggest that that seeking the “good of the city” comes through living by the value system of a Kingdom culture in and amongst the world.
I believe that sometimes the reason we get so caught up in the political tidal wave every four years is because we’ve actually defined “the good of the city” as, “my good.” The moment we realize that a political candidate may, in fact, bring about a change that would strip us of one of what we believe to be “inherent” freedoms, we champion the candidate that best represents our personal opinions and his/her election becomes our chief goal.
Let us seek the good of the city. However, allow your method for doing so be defined by the homeless nomad, the Son of God who lived a life of servitude, consistently sacrificing his own good for the good of others even to the point of death; allow Jesus to inform how we seek our city’s good. The longer we allow the value systems of America to inform what it means to seek someone’s good, the longer we will fail to be the radical family of God.
Be on the lookout for the next blog in this series, “Christian Voting Part 3: Who will suffer and does that matter?”
Latest posts by Ernesto Duke (see all)
- Christian Voting Part 5: Trump won. I’m White. Now what? - November 14, 2016
- Christian Voting Part 4: My Dirty Little Secret - October 13, 2016
- Christian Voting Part 3: Who Will Suffer Under Trump? Who Will Suffer Under Clinton? Does That Matter? - October 8, 2016