For Wanderers, the Way Back to God

There is a verse in Jeremiah’s compelling letter to the Israelite exiles in Babylon that arrests me whenever I read it. God says to his people: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you” (Jeremiah 29:13-14a).

But first, let us review the context from last week. Jeremiah, the prophet, remains in the region of burned-out Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar’s troops had crushed the city to the ground and taken thousands of Israelites, young and old, into exile.

From ruined Jerusalem, Jeremiah had written these exiles a letter telling them how they were to accommodate themselves to their new situation: by building houses, planting gardens, raising families. In summary, they should fit in, but remain communally strong.

He told them in addition that their captivity was to last seventy years, but then God would turn his face to them and there would be a glorious round-up of fellow exiled Israelites from many places, who would return in droves to Jerusalem. He would restore the glory of Israel, and the people would again worship him. God would keep his covenant.

Nestled in the midst of this richness of promise is the compelling condition quoted above — that the people would find him when they sought him with all their heart.

“Seek” is an action word. We ask a friend: “What’s your son, Barry, doing these days?” Answer: “He’s seeking employment.” Then follows a recitation of the details of his search. Seeking requires energy, focus, attention.

The God we serve seeks us. In one of Jesus’ parables, he features God as a shepherd who leaves the flock to “seek” for one lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7). That is God’s mind toward the lost.

And God expects us to seek him, too. Isaiah counsels: “Seek the Lord while he may be found” (Isaiah 55:6a). Regarding prayer, Jesus taught: “Seek” and you will find (Matthew 7:7a).

All these verses call for intensity, focus, desire. That is where Israel repeatedly failed. It was not only that they had not sought God’s favor in their worship. They had also gone after what God had forbidden — the idols of Moab, Ammon, Edom. They pursued sexual immorality. They sought greed-driven wealth. These things displaced the proper pursuit of God himself.

Only concentrated search for the favor of God could keep them from further wandering from the paths of righteousness.

That’s why the verse in Jeremiah about finding God by seeking him wholeheartedly is so compelling. And why what Jesus said is so compelling too: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

To the God of Israel, nothing less than continual seeking after him and abject devotion to him are acceptable.

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Photo credit: Walt Stoneburner (via flickr.com)

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