God set forth a difficult task for the Hebrew people in Jeremiah 29:5-7: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters … seek the welfare of the city” (NRSV).
Why is this a challenging and extraordinary command?
Because it is presented to those whose nation has been conquered, who have been forcibly removed from their homeland and who are living in a foreign country until the rule of the Babylonians.
One might think that God would want the Israelites to rebel against Babylon and overthrow the regime that had destroyed God’s temple, decimated the city of Jerusalem and carried off its brightest leaders to a foreign land.
But that’s not what God wanted. God wanted them to make the best of it.
Jeremiah 29:5-7 has become an ongoing word for God’s people in every age. It is the call to seek the welfare of the land they are in, even if it’s a foreign land.
I started a creation care non-profit a couple of years ago because I realized that my new grandson might live into the 22nd century.
The questions that haunted me were, “What kind of world am I leaving him and his contemporaries? What kind of grandfather simply attends birthday parties and soccer games, when the entire planet is facing an existential crisis?”
I wanted to find a way to love my grandson well. But sometimes this work can be disheartening. I can perpetually feel like I’m in the minority, a lonely voice crying in the wilderness.
People are buying and consuming and spending without regard for future generations. We are removed from the exploitation of the land, the abusive treatment of animals, and the unjust systems that keep human beings in social and financial bondage.
Those of a certain theological bent may think about it and say dismissively, “Jesus is coming back and creating a new heaven and a new earth anyway. Why worry about the earth?”
Of course, we don’t normally take this position when it comes to our retirement account or trying to “save the country,” but some feel content with this attitude toward the planet on which we depend for our very existence.
It leads me to describe my work as “young David loading his slingshot with a small stone, hoping to hit Goliath in the head and knock him down.” I walk around scrounging for a few more stones to keep in my satchel.
The past week has been a little different, though, and I feel better. On Aug. 16, President Biden signed the largest climate change bill in the history of the U.S., investing $369 billion in climate and energy funding.
There will be tax breaks for electric vehicles, solar and wind energy and next-generation batteries. It will also invest in agriculture, encouraging farmers to adopt sustainable sowing and harvesting practices.
Forest preservation is part of the bill, investing in protecting and planting more trees which are our primary source in absorbing carbon emissions. Experts estimate this bill will help reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by 40% below 2005 levels by 2030.
It is not everything needed to address the climate crisis, but it does indicate that some are paying attention and are willing to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7, NIV).
Even if this bill hadn’t been passed by Congress and signed by President Biden, I would feel compelled “to seek the peace and prosperity” for the land into which I’ve been called. Other biblical writers would refer to this mindset as “seeking the common good.”
Caring for creation, taking care of the earth and listening to the voice of the trees is something we can do in exile or at home. We can do what is right for the earth when we are in the majority or the minority.
So, put a few stones in your slingshot and keep your eyes open for a giant who wants to decimate what is rightfully God’s precious possession. You might finally get a hit.
Founder and CEO of Christians Caring for Creation, he is a member of the Good Faith Media strategic advisory board.