No, it is not the “Field of Dreams” like in the movies. That patch of green you are looking at has a special place in the Bible. Moreover it has a special place in the annals of faith. It is called the Field of Anathoth. It looks pretty green, right? It has not always been that way. It was once a war zone.
If someone was to ask you for your life plan, and you said, “my plan is to have faith” people would laugh. And yet, people exercise faith regularly and it does not require any religion at all.
If you were a gangly teenager out all week partying, someone looked at you and saw a vision for your future. That person exercised faith on your behalf. If you have arrived on these shores as an immigrant, you practiced faith. If you have stood across the altar from an immature looking man exchanging vows, you have practiced faith. If you have bought a house and signed up for a thirty year mortgage, you have practiced faith.
In short, every time you take the long view, there is a vision of the future you sign up for, with no real guarantees. You don’t really know what is going to happen in the long term. With those kind of promises, you can only vow to support and tweak the situation no matter what comes your way.
The field of Anathoth asks an existential question. “Is it possible to have faith without any concrete guarantee?” The field is mentioned in the 32nd chapter of the book of Jeremiah the Prophet. It’s an odd story simply because it is told as a story, without any overt lesson attached.
Jeremiah is the constant bearer of bad news. Because of this, the King locks him in prison. There, he has an unusual dream in which God tells him to buy a field from his cousin Hanamel. Jeremiah wakes up rubs his eyes and says, “Well that was a crazy dream”. But when Hanamel does come to the prison and offers to sell the field, Jeremiah says to himself, “What a coincidence, but how can I be sure this is God and not last night’s dinner?”
He goes back to God with a long prayer. He asks one more time “Is this really what you want?”… because he knows that the Babylonians are coming to overthrow the kingdom and cart everyone away for 70 years. You might say housing prices are at an all time low. People in Jerusalem are tearing the stones off their houses, to bolster the city walls. Jeremiah knows that to buy a field in the middle of a war zone makes no sense at all.
Still, he buys the field as instructed, simply as a sign of God’s enduring faithfulness. He signs the deed, weighs out the money, gets witnesses, gets the documents notarized, and then tells his scribe to store them away in clay jars so that someone will one day dig up these scrolls, and witness that the fields of Anathoth are flourishing again. It’s a time capsule of hope sent forward into the future.
Even for a prophet it’s a huge existential demand, that takes no account of present circumstances. Jeremiah is going to witness the kingdom destroyed, be carted off to Babylon along with the other captives, with nothing but a promise buried in a jar of clay. He won’t see the results in his lifetime. He just has to take God at his word.
Faith... is it worth anything, if that is all you have? I guess that the verdict is personal in the end, and it bears the perspective of some living. When I look back on my own life, I think of my mother. One time she came to Toronto to visit, and she could not bear the sight of people on the street with their hands held out. I worried a few times that she would get us killed. She would admonish beggars, “Get up off the street! There is always something you can do!” She was terrified and hurt to see young people wasting their lives in such a way. My mother had lived through the great depression where people were starving, but were too proud to ask for a handout. They found a way through instead, because they never stopped trying. My mother always said that the day you sat down on the side of the road, your life was over.
I have also had my life knocked flat and had to call in my mother’s advice, that even when you don’t know what to do, you don’t stop. You dig for whatever drop of resolve you can wring from the situation, that whatever has happened is not the final word. We all get those circumstances at some point, when calamity comes to call. No one would willingly put themselves in a situation where you have to rely on faith as a strategy and yet, when it is all you have, you will find that amazing things do happen.
If you take another look at the picture, the field of Anathoth is green and fertile once more, just as God promised. It is true that faith does not really look like a solid plan from the outside. Still, it is a mindset that breathes life into the worst situations. Once you have done all you can do, it lets you take a back seat and watch God step up and do his thing. Troubles will surely come, and they will go too. Miracles happen. I know, I have seen more than a few in my lifetime. When in doubt, it is never a mistake to buy the field.
At least, that’s my plan.