Really? Will Anything Ever Be Okay in Jerusalem?
Read Jeremiah 33:14-16
“Jerusalem will live in safety.” Really? Do we have any earthly reason to believe there will be a time when things are perfectly safe in the Holy Land, what a colleague once labeled the “overpromised land”?
Last month, President Trump announced that the U.S. embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This stirred up some controversy, of course. You can do your own research to understand why the international community got nervous at the news of this move. What is perplexing to me here, in light of Jeremiah’s text, is how the etymology of the name, Jerusalem, derives from shalom, or peace in Hebrew. Yet it is discord rather than reconciliation that the city continues to witness. The last Jewish temple there was reduced to rubble by the Romans in A.D. 70. That was neither the first nor the last time Jerusalem experienced violence and destruction. But politically and spiritually, we sometimes let this get us down. We think that things will never be okay for Jerusalem, and this might lead us to despair over ever finding peace anywhere.
It’s easy to say we trust in God’s promises through the Anointed One when they are abstract, but when they are this baldly concrete, they seem too good to be true. If only the Bible kept its promises to the realm of legend! In that world, we can drum up hope for a king named Arthur who might come and pull a sword from a stone, a dude named Neo who can fight a computer program that traps people in the Matrix, or some future president who can fix our economic and housing crises. But a peaceful Middle East? That’s a tough one.
Maybe it was easier in Jeremiah’s time to believe in such fantasies. Think again. The prophet was staring down the end of his era, the adoption of human sacrifice, and foreign invasion. With few allies, he ran afoul of apostate political leaders. No wonder his prophecies echo with lament and woe! So, was he really hopeful when he penned these words?
He may not have known how God would make good on his promises, and how a branch could sprout from David’s line and fix anything. Indeed, from his vantage point, the prospect of a peaceful Jerusalem might even have been harder to entertain than it is today.
An Alternative Kingdom of Peace
But the key to this whole matter is a prior verse—33:8—which promises that God will forgive the mess we have made of our relationships and ourselves. Without this promise, there’s no hope for the Middle East; with it, there is hope indeed. Whatever your politics, I think it’s fair to say that were we to get to know individual Palestinians or Israeli Jews, we would understand their grievances. We might even get angry on their behalf if we heard their stories of trauma or injustice. We might even resonate with various desires for “eye-for-an-eye” vengeance. The problem is, that’s how perpetual violence consumes us.
If we assume that we broken humans can simply clean up our geopolitical act, we are in for a long, hard road. But if we approach questions like violence and injustice from the perspective of God’s call for reconciliation, which is astonishingly inaugurated with Jesus, a different kind of king and a real path to peace emerges. In him, retribution is set aside. Forgiveness comes. A new order begins. Remember that God’s mission will prevail, because grace is in, with, and under the fabric of human history. The spiritual peace we celebrate in Jesus is destined to be a lasting, tangible peace.
We don’t know exactly what this peace will look like. And I tend to think that attempts to focus on physical real estate as the point of God’s promises are unhelpful. Revelation 21:2-4 explains the deep nature of our hope for peace:
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Thus, God declares that, ultimately, everything will be okay for Jerusalem. Really. In the meantime, we can be a foretaste of that peace even today: in our relationships, earthly vocations, and public engagement. We are God’s ambassadors and we are God’s walking embassies of the alternative kingdom of peace. This doesn’t overly spiritualize things. Instead, it makes God’s promises as concrete as your day-to-day reflection of God’s graciousness. Spread the good word, friends.