Exiles in the American Lion’s Den
By Joseph Sunde
We have long pointed to Jeremiah 29 as an introductory primer for life in exile, prodding us away from the typical temptations of fortification, domination, and accommodation.
As Christians continue to struggle with what it means to be in but not of the world, Jeremiah reminds us to “seek the welfare of the city,” bearing distinct witness even as we serve our captors. We are to “pray to the Lord for it,” he writes, “because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
The Biblical examples abound, and in a new post at The Washington Institute, Thomas Kent draws our attention to one of the most prominent:
The story of Daniel teaches us that it is possible to live a faithful life even during exile in a pagan land and amidst a culture antithetical to God’s law. As if spurred on by Jeremiah 29, with competence and character, Daniel contributes with “an excellent spirit” to the prospering of Babylon. Other high officials, jealous of Daniel, “sought to find a ground of complaint against Daniel with regard to the Kingdom”, but they could not because Daniel was faithful. When thrown into the lion’s den, God delivered Daniel and protected him because he trusted in God. As Christians in the marketplace, we must approach our work in the same fashion: we must strive to be faithful and we must trust God.
Daniel retained a distinct prophetic voice in the King’s court, but it was tethered by good service — culture-making that transformed his surroundings in a common-grace sort of way. Whereas many evangelicals have diluted and confined Christian witness to narrow, altar-call evangelism, Daniel demonstrates a more enriched vocational arc, requiring active discernment, obedience, and sacrifice as it relates to culture itself.
America is not Babylon, but retaining that same perspective in our own setting will help to align our cultural imaginations and enrich the work of our hands accordingly. As Kent explains:
Truly we, as exiles in a strange land, are already in the lion’s den. Abstract – but very real – idols and sinful attitudes such as materialism, careerism, perfectionism, and cynicism tempt our hearts and find increasing expression in concrete laws of the land. If it hadn’t been clear already, Obergefell vs. Hodges shows us that this country we live in had already changed from what we thought it was. In a word, we were always exiles. Previous generations were wrong to think otherwise.
To live faithfully in the land, we need to fully step into this identity. An exile knows where his or her true home is. Our identity as exiles clarifies, crystallizes, and even simplifies our calling. As exiles, we do not pretend that Babylon, or America, is the Promised Land. As exiles, we live as distinct people in a mission-field, in a lion’s den. We are not safe, but there are profound opportunities to live an incarnational life and reach our lost neighbors around us, to show them the power of our God.
To be clear, Christians have never been “at home” in America. Our position of exile is not tied to the regression of American society. It is the basic orientation of the Christian life.
But as we continue to face increasing pressures against religious liberty and freedom of conscience, we should be prepared for what’s to come. Life in exile has traditionally been rather comfortable for American Christians, but the golden statues are beginning to loom. We should be prepared to open our windows with boldness when prayer is ushered indoors, but we should also retain a proactive focus on serving our captors faithfully across all spheres of culture, no matter how mundane or thankless the work may be.
As faithful exiles, let us pursue a cultural influence that proclaims truth and life across all of society and in multiple manifestations. The light will offend and the lion’s den will beckon, but as it does, let our witness to God’s goodness be so clear that even pagan kings will fret at our destruction.
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