“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the LORD. —Jeremiah 31:27-28
Jeremiah is prophesying to people in exile. He's talking about a restored Israel and Judah while people are being marched away. He's relaying God's promise of a future that may seem impossible for them to imagine.
So, what sense does it make to talk of restoration? Surely the promised land was lost when Israel broke covenant with the Lord. Now there’s no turning back; there’s only curse and destruction, right?
The nonsensical, homecoming hope declared by Jeremiah is based on Israel's memory of who God is and has proven himself to be. This is not the first time Israel has been in captivity. The people may have strayed and rebelled since God brought them out of slavery in Egypt long ago, but the corporate memory of God-with-them has not been erased.
Thus, Jeremiah’s promise of rebuilding and replanting quickens the people’s faith. They can dream of a future where life will be reverted to include all the good it had before. The desolate towns will be repopulated, the markets will be filled with goods again, the fields will be flush with food, and there will be livestock to tend. All of creation will flourish in God’s intended place of shalom.
The problem is that the people are stuck in between the destruction and the promise. There's a homecoming that they are anticipating with all their hearts, but they can't quite get there yet. The reality is that these Israelites do not return to Judah. The promise of restoration is not realized for many decades.
It was important for hope to capture their imaginations, because what they hoped for was a long way off. Having confidence in the God who made the promise was what sustained them, generation after generation. They clung to the hope that the present reality was not the last word, and that posture of hope destabilized despair.
So what do we do in that in-between place, in the “already, but not yet”? We find a way to live it out, even if it hasn't arrived. Little by little, we practice restoration and resurrection in our daily lives. We work for communities of shalom. We pray for the peace of the city and for our enemies. We become a light to enlighten the nations. We scream “Maranatha!” from under the weight of a broken world.
While it can be hard to live out this nonsensical, imagined hope from where we stand now, we can turn and look to the horizon. It’s a long journey, but we know that morning's coming . . . so (as Bruce Cockburn puts it) we’ve got to keep kicking at the darkness so that the light can break through.
Prayer: Dear God, help us to hope when it makes no sense. Give us imaginations to see what a peaceful and reconciled world could look like, and the strength to do the daily hopeful work that leads to your restored kingdom.
Cindy Stover is a Justice Mobilizer for the Christian Reformed Church in Canada. She is interested in seeing people realize God's call to enact justice and mercy in every area of our lives, from how we shop, to how we talk to our neighbors, to how our churches respond to the most vulnerable people in today’s world.