“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
This is one of the more encouraging and hopeful verses in the Bible. It had a profound impact on me when I was first reading the Bible. I took it to heart, and it guided me into a relational position with God.
As with any verse or passage in the Bible, the depth, nuance and layers of meaning can be drawn out by focusing on the context. We can tease the meaning out further by considering application of it to my own life.
The context here is a letter written by the prophet, Jeremiah, to his people who had recently been exiled to Babylon. Though Jeremiah’s letter was written to a particular people in a particular time and place under particular circumstances, and it was particularly relevant to them, it has application to us today. Some people claim that an ancient verse like this that was written to a specific people in a specific time for a specific purpose shouldn’t be applied to modern life. I beg to differ.
But first, the context. Jeremiah wrote this letter in the late 6th or early 7th Century BC. He was writing to the people from Jerusalem and surrounding area who had been captured by the Babylonians on one of the several raids into that region during that time and marched off to Babylon as captives. We refer to them as “exiles”. They were exiled from their homeland to Babylon. (See commentary on Jeremiah 29)
Of course, the homeland of this particular people was land they believed God promised to them from ancient days when their ancestor, known as Abraham, moved from Ur (which incidentally is somewhat closer to Babylon) to this land that he believed God had promised to him and his descendants.
I don’t think we can underestimate that this letter was written to “the people of God”, the people to whom God chose to reveal Himself and among whom God chose to “dwell”, the descendants of Abraham of whom God promised they would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and through whom God promised to bless all nations.
If you know the history of the Old Testament, you know that these chosen people were exiled to Babylon because they had ceased to follow and love God. They still performed their rituals and religious observances, but their hearts were far from God because they were attracted to and embraced the values and worldviews of the people around them who did not know God.
Isaiah, a prophet who predated Jeremiah by about a generation, said it this way (Isaiah 29:13):
[T]his people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote….
Although they were God’s chosen people, chosen in a particular time and place for a particular purpose by which God would unfold his plan for the blessing of the entire world, these people were far from God in their hearts. Their exile is indicative of their spiritual lives. They were cut off from the promises and blessings of God at the time Jeremiah wrote the letter.
So what relevance does Jeremiah’s letter have for us today?
As Paul told Timothy, all scripture is useful for instruction. (2 Timothy 3:16) The amazing thing about scripture is that it has multiple nuances and layers and timeless relevance. Though this was a specific message to a specific people in a specific time for specific circumstances, it does have relevance today.
After writing the forgoing paragraphs, I had to get some work done. In the meantime, I read my Twitter feed and found this statement from Tim Keller:
“Jonathan Edwards was surrounded by Bible-believing religious people in his day. Individuals who thought they believed in Christianity, but did not. The irreligious come to Jesus because they know their need. The religious tend not to.” (Referring to Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards)
Jonathan Edwards described people in his day who were much like the people in Jeremiah’s day, and much like the people in our day. These are people who may have grown up in the church. Or maybe they went to church as children or even into adulthood. Maybe they even still go to church now … or not; they consider themselves Christians, but their hearts are far from him.
Jeremiah and Jonathan Edwards were talking about people who are culturally immersed in a belief system that they don’t question, but they have been attracted to and have so embraced the temporal world that they do not really desire God in their hearts.
They might go through the motions of religious observance and practice. They go to church, maybe every week, or maybe only periodically. They say they are Christians. The espouse “Christian values”. They may have very strong moral values and live very upright lives, but their hearts are far from God.
In essence, there are people who practice religious observance or give lip service to God. They call themselves Christians and are “good people”, but they are exiled from God in their hearts.
Notice that the exile of the people in Jeremiah was the result of God’s own doing. (See Jeremiah 29:20) God sent them into exile. Though they were the victims of a Babylonian power grab, Jeremiah credits God with their exile.
Things happen in our lives that are very difficult for us. We all go through times of difficulty and stress and pain. We are sometime tempted to get angry at God for things that happen to us, but God maybe God allows these things to happen to us in order to draw us back to himself. CS Lewis says,
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (From the Problem of Pain)
We tend to focus only on our temporal lives. This is another way of saying that our hearts tend to wander far from God. Jesus came preaching “the kingdom of God”, but God’s kingdom is not of this world. (See John 18:36)
Jeremiah 29:13 applies timelessly to people in all generations, promising that, if we seek God with all our hearts, we will “find” Him.
Though I don’t have time or room to get into it, this verse implies “the hiddenness of God”. Why should God “hide” Himself from us? Well, maybe it is so that we would seek Him.
Why would God want us to seek Him? Why not just overwhelm us with the proof of His existence and presence? Maybe it is because He wants us to choose Him because we actually desire Him, and not to coerce us.
The Psalmist said centuries before Jesus, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8) Peter references the reality of tasting that the Lord is good in the 1st Century. (1 Peter 2:3) We can taste and see that the Lord is good today.
The kingdom of God is available to us, but it is a kingdom not of this world. We have to desire it. We have to be willing to let our fixation about this world go in order to “grab” a hold of the kingdom of God. We have to desire God and His kingdom more than we desire anything in this world. When we do that, we begin to see ourselves as “aliens and strangers in this world”. (See 1 Peter 2:11)
Why would we want to let go of our desires in this world to seek God? Because He is good! Because God alone satisfies the longings we have. In this world, we have trouble, tribulation, difficulty and distress, but in God we have peace. (John 16:33)
God promised the exiled people in Jeremiah’s time that He can be found if they would seek him with all their hearts. God hasn’t changed, and people haven’t changed. We can still find God if we seek Him with all our hearts.