Monday, October 10, 2016

Jeremiah’s Response to a Troubled People During a Troubled Time

We sang, as children, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” And, just a few verses after where I stopped reading, we have Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you.” Again and again, throughout scripture, we find the assurance that God is God and is fully capable of handling the world. Yet, we are uncomfortable with trust, with giving over control.
We are not alone. Throughout time, people have always wrestled with God and resisted surrendering control of their lives. Although we do it, God loves us (and everyone else), wants us (and everyone else) to experience the richness of life, and God desires a relationship with us (and everyone else). The old verse says, “For God so love the world,” not just us, not just Christians. Everyone wrestles with this question of meaning.
Sometimes prophetic books like Jeremiah can seem distant, but they deal with the human condition. Spinoza, the great rationalist philosopher, he was neither Christian nor Jew and associated God with nature as a pantheist, wrote in a letter to Hugo Boxel, “God's will is eternal, and has never been indifferent; hence... the world is a necessary effect of the divine nature.”[1] We have flooding because of rain. If we accept that the world is God’s plan, then we can trust God, even in the floods and storms of life. Yet, when we experience the storms of life, we can ask: Where is God? Why would God allow this?

In Jeremiah, the people wrestle with God in chapters 27-29. In 597 BCE, when Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Israelite King Jehoiachin and took Jerusalem, he deported the king and the best and brightest citizens. In doing so, Nebuchadnezzar ushered in the era of Babylonian captivity. Those who were left in Jerusalem did not have their leaders or the people who were experienced at governing them. Those who were in captivity were dislocated, in a foreign land.
Captivity provides the backdrop for Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and wept, remembering Zion. On the willows there, we hung our harps.” The captors made fun of the captives and said, “Sing us one of those songs of Zion!” Jeremiah speaks the truth. In chapter 27, he puts on a yoke and says: This is not temporary. Have faith in God! When Jeremiah shared God’s truth, the people did not want to hear it.
We are not unlike Jeremiah’s audience. We do not like the truth. I should exercise more, but I would resent it if you suggested it to me. Maybe I should eat healthier food, but I would not like to hear it from you. Those are simple innocuous truths, and they are far more palatable when discovered, not directed, or when inspired, not instructed. When it comes to hearing truth in life, things are no different. We resist it. However, Jeremiah spells it out for his audience: The truth is the truth, and sometimes the truth is difficult.
God is still God, and we can trust God. We do not need to be totally self-reliant. Our American “rugged individualism” might yield a productive economy and a leading world super power, but Herbert Hoover was not promoting a biblical truth when he repeated this idea in 1928.[2] He sought a productive economy, racing toward twentieth-century progress. We have the benefit of hindsight. Individualism yields consumerism, materialism, and a me-first world in which relationships become disposable, divorce rates are at an all-time high, friendships devolved into networking opportunities for professional gain, and we throw so much away that the Earth can barely contain it. Need I mention that political discourse is gone, and all that is left is mudslinging politicians. When we depend on ourselves and not God, we see what we get. We can trust God, grow where we are planted, and work together.
One of Jeremiah’s problems was opposing prophets. Hananiah shows up in chapter 28 and breaks Jeremiah’s yoke. He delivers the good news: Captivity is temporary; everything’s gonna be okay! God will break the Babylonians and we will return to Jerusalem. People liked Hananiah’s message. The problem was, his message was not from God; it was what the people wanted to hear.
Chapter 29 is Jeremiah’s response. Settle down, Jeremiah says, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” Do not listen to the false prophets. Listen to God, and this is where we are. Grow where you are planted. If we were there, and if we were listening, our challenge would be to distinguish between the false prophet and the true prophet.
Do we have false prophets today? Absolutely. Sighting them is fairly easy, false prophets don’t reference the Bible, don’t mention God, and what they do say does not sound like the God of the Bible. False prophets have a lifestyle that does not match the message they share. Anyone who claims to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, but fails to mention Jesus, might be a false prophet. The problem today is competing with the clutter of voices in popular culture. They want to show us how to live, how to be beautiful, successful, and forever young. Jeremiah says, “No!” God’s got the whole world in his hands! Patrick Miller writes,
The peace and well-being the Lord promises to the exiles through Jeremiah are radically different from that promised by Hananiah and the prophets like him. Such peace is not to be found in resistance and rebellion…but in submission.[3]
We want acceptance. Instead, we have a calling to obedience. We want to follow Hananiah. Instead, we are to follow God. Life continuously changes. Heraclitus: “The river where you set your foot just now is gone.”[4] With each change in life, God remains consistent, ever-loving, and ever-present.




[1] Benedictus de Spinoza, Complete works, trans. Samuel Shirley and Michael L. Morgan (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 2002), 901.
[2] Herbert Hoover, The philosophy of rugged individualism, (Documentary Enrichment Records, 1962).
[3] Patrick D. Miller, "Jeremiah," in New Interpreter's Bible, ed. Leander Keck (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001), 792.
[4] Heraclitus, Fragments, trans. Brooks Haxton (London: Penguin, 2001), 27.

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