"This is what the Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 'Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 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. . . . When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the lord, 'and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,' declares the Lord, 'and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile'" (Jer. 29:4-14)
Exile On Main Street is such an apt biblical image that's it's ironic that God gave it to the Rolling Stones for use as the title of their great rock 'n roll album of 1972. That album of great music seethes with the grunge of the world, a sense of frustration, anger, and estrangement. But then, I said it was great music, not lyrics! It is, after all, only rock and roll, right?
An exile is a person banished, thrown out, or removed from their home or homeland, one driven by circumstance or decree to live among a people not their own, whose ways are not their own. In a real sense, that is who we are as Christians, those banished from Eden and exiled to a world east of Eden whose ways are not our own. The natural state of the Christian should be one of estrangement and longing, a longing for Home, a home found only in Christ. In fact, we are profoundly and deeply alienated from the world around us even as we live and move in it.
That disconnect has led some Christians to make light of this world in contrast to that world to come, denigrating life here and now and forever living in the world to come. Although likely more prevalent in the past, there are still strains of this around, for example in the dualism that says that secular vocations or interests, while necessary, are really much less important than spiritual ministries, like missions or pastoring. A college student might be advised that, for example, a career in acting is good because of the opportunities you may have to share the Gospel, viewing the vocation not as a matter of redemptive activity but as a mere backdrop for saving souls. Such a dualism has led to the false idea that the only reason Christians are musicians is because of their ministry, not simply because they can make good, true, and beautiful music.
Like the Jews in Babylon, we are here by God's sovereign choice. And like the Jews who surely longed for their homeland, we long for Home, for a life and world fully redeemed by God and restored to its original design. Like the Jews, we may be tempted to live in that future hope such that our roots are shallow here, our efforts at the mundane matters of life half-hearted, our tilling and keeping (to use the words of Genesis 2:15) mere desultory scratchings in the earth around us. But that's not what God says to them or to us.
In Jeremiah's letter to the Babylonian exiles, God tells the Israelites to "build houses and settle down," to marry and have children --- in short, to carry on with a full life in the world they are in. Though they are aliens and exiles, he calls them to a thorough engagement with that world, telling them to "seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you in exile" --- not their own peace and prosperity, but that of the community's. He is commending a civic spirit, an involvement for good for all with whom they live. If I were them, I would have been tempted to do the minimum, figuring I'd leave as soon as I could, and certainly not seeking good for them. But that's not what God says.
It's not difficult to see why God commends this conduct. This world is the one He made. These people, though not like me, bear his image. We are not temporarily embodied spirits but our natural, eternal state is as an embodied people. This is where we live. Though we hope for restoration, we live in God's world and will live eternally in God's world. Soon, we'll be Home. Soon, a restored world will be our Home.