Coming Back From Exile

It was only a weekend retreat in a neighboring state. Still, I felt relief as I unlocked my door and knew I was finally home. But instead of the dark apartment I expected, a fire crackled in the woodstove and an arrangement of bright fall flowers from my mom’s beds brightened the kitchen table. No one else was there, but I knew Mom and Dad had stopped by and created this welcome home. That was over twenty years ago, and I am still warmed by the memory.

More recently, I returned from an extended trip to find Welcome Home notes in colored chalk all over the sidewalk leading to my door. Works of art by my family. We all sat in my living room to catch up, and I savored the simple joy of being with loved ones.

A few days ago, I read about an Ethiopian taxi driver who has been in the United States for eleven years. He longs to go back to his homeland, but he left looking for political asylum and cannot go back until changes in the government make it safe to do so. What must it feel like to know you cannot go home?

Scriptures contain many metaphors for the human wandering that takes us away from God the Father. One description I found in chapter 5 of Isaiah has stayed with me:

So my people will go into exile far away because they do not know me.

The opening chapters of Isaiah contain warnings of terrible judgment that will come on God’s people because they’ve rejected the Lord and turned their backs on Him. God’s wrath will punish Judah and Jerusalem, and God recounts His case against the very people He had chosen as His own.

But it is impossible to read these chapters and not see our own society today. Here’s just a sample:

* They have despised the Holy One of Israel (1:4)
*  they have made alliances with pagans (2:6)
*  The people worship things they have made with their own hands (2:8)
*  they speak out against the Lord and refuse to obey him. They provoke him   to his face (3:8)
*  They display their sin like the people of Sodom and don’t even try to hide it. (3:9)
they never think about the Lord or notice what he is doing. (5:12)
*  What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil,
    
that dark is light and light is dark,
    
that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter   (5:20)

And so, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, His people will go into exile far away, because they do not know me.

Exile. Absence from your home country. Absence from home. This was a warning for Judah, but I hear a warning for us today. Do we send ourselves into exile, are we far from the presence of the One who loves us, because we, too, forget who has chosen and cared for us?

We go into self-imposed exile when we do so many of those things Judah was doing:

*  We worship things made with our own abilities and our own successes

*  We call evil things good and good things evil. In other words, we test good and evil by our own standards, not by God’s

*  We are guilty of ignoring what God is doing and of not acknowledging God at work

*  We ally ourselves with pagan culture and sin openly.

*  We willfully refuse to obey God in something

All of these things send us into exile, take us away from the presence of God. We live a long way off from home, far from the Father who has chosen us as His children.

Read again what God says:

So my people will go into exile far away because they do not know me.

Perhaps we have a tendency to wander, to live in exile, because we do not know the Father? Perhaps, the more we learn to know Him, the closer to home we come?

No human loved one — spouse, child, parent, or friend — wants to be taken for granted. But we are guilty of doing just that. Do you take your Heavenly Father for granted?

Paul says in Colossians that the antidote to all these things that lead to wandering and exile is learning to know your Creator.

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.  (Col 3:10)

Earlier in Colossians, we’re told, All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.  (Col 1:10)

Learning to know the Father changes us, makes us new people, makes us more like Him.

And brings us back from living in exile.

*

Scriptures from the New Living Translation

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