As our nation settles into the knowledge of a new administration, fear, tension, and general uneasiness have been visceral for many. Many are anxious about the direction they fear our country is headed in. As a moral framework, I posit Jeremiah 29 and an excerpt from Augustine’s City of God to accompany glimmers of hope the country heard in the unifying rhetoric of President-elect Trump’s acceptance speech in the early hours of November 9.
Jeremiah 29, verse 7 reads:
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.
From around 600 B.C., this command from the prophet Jeremiah for the Jews to pray for and seek the peace of Babylon would have fallen on unwilling and hesitant ears. Praying for Jerusalem would have been easy for the Jews because Jerusalem was their home, and they found comfort in the community there. But Babylon was different altogether. God’s command would have been incredibly difficult for two reasons. In order to pray for the city they had been carried into following their exile, the Jews would have had to pray for the godless culture and society of Babylon as well as come to terms with God’s will for them to remain in this land.
For one, Babylon represented cultural evil to the Jews. A Jew in Babylon would have felt surrounded by everything godless, pagan, and immoral. Yet God commands the Jews to establish roots in this very city. Instead of looking towards a glorious day where society would be restored once again, the Jews were not given a hopeful vision of return to Jerusalem, but were commanded to immerse themselves in Babylon. Redemption looked differently than God’s people expected. And in that, God not only called for immersion, but He also desired the Jews to pray for the prosperity of this “enemy” city. The Jews would find their peace only in the peace of this city.
From this we see it is not only possible but that God requires His people find peace through supplications of prayer for the peace of the very society that has the ability to alienate them. St. Augustine speaks to this. In Book 19 of City of God, Augustine describes the same passage in Jeremiah to observe that the people whose God is Lord seek peace, as do people who are “alienated” from God, for “even such a people loves a peace of its own”. Augustine further explains how God’s people are “by faith set free from Babylon”. This is a reason why, Augustine says, the apostle Paul “instructs the Church to pray for kings of that city and those in high positions”. While Jeremiah advises the Jews to offer prayers for Babylon “because in her peace is your peace”, Augustine similarly concedes this by voicing that temporal peace is shared by “good and bad alike” on earth.
To follow, the second reason it would be difficult for the Jews to pray for and seek Babylon’s prosperity is because of this very fact: God’s sovereign plan had the Jewish people remaining in Babylon for an enduring time. We see the purpose was in the Jewish people benefiting their communities and blessing their Babylonian neighbors.
For Christians in the United States reflecting on this election season and how they should respond, it can be a whole lot easier to lament society’s perceived downward spiral. It is difficult to pray for and seek the prosperity of a nation that in some ways may be headed in an uncertain direction, led by someone many find challenging to trust.
Though the contexts of Babylon and modern day America vastly differ, for a moment consider how much more obviously godless the city of Babylon was. God led His people to this land and commanded they pray for that city and seek its peace and prosperity. Jeremiah understood and simplified God’s desire for His people: God yearns to give them peace. Focusing on the uncertainty some of us see ourselves headed in could, in some cases, present itself as resistance to God’s willingness to provide us with peace. Put differently, invoking blessing on our nation need not be forgotten or overlooked, or come secondary or optional to criticizing the present injustices, which must not be ignored. The criticizing and the blessing are necessary, but it stands as a reminder to myself that we may overlook a prayerful desire for prosperity for our nation in being solely concerned with criticizing it. And we do have reasons to be hopeful.
Jessica Meyers is an intern for Providence. She studied at Westmont College, with a focus on Political Science and English.
Photo credit: Salvaged giant sculptures with prior existence at a Presidential Park that went out of business in 2010, via Flickr.