Thus Says the Lord part 2

Beaten and rejected, threatened with death and accused of treason. This is the life of a prophet in ancient Israel.

Over the past few days I have been thinking over the message and ministry of Jeremiah. I want to faithfully interpret God’s word in the book and allow him to speak into my present culture and context. One might imagine that this is quite the challenge, with Israel being a nation state existing in a vastly pagan culture and the Church today being a dispersed people bound together by common faith in a largely secular society. The world of Jeremiah is one of wars and kings and swords. Our world is one of twitter and national television and democratic elections. The people of God in that day were executed en masse or exported to another country. The people of God are ignored or ridiculed in our day.

Different contexts indeed. However it is my firm conviction that the Bible is God’s word to us and is useful for all matters pertaining to the life of the believer and the Church.

Jeremiah as a prophet and a minister instantly provides a shining example of one who fears God and not man. During the war with the Babylonians Jeremiah became known for preaching messages which undermined Judah’s hope; that they would escape the sword and fend off the besieging empire (Jeremiah 38:4). As one might expect, this message was not well received. It seems he made too much of a spectacle to be ignored by the religious officials and the king himself, enduring an intriguing relationship with the ruling elite (Jeremiah 38:14, Jeremiah 36:32). In between stints in prison or otherwise being maligned, the rulers would come and ask him to speak God’s word (Jeremiah 37:3).

None of these things are particularly striking to me. It is not unusual for the powerful to have their photographs taken with influential people though they may clearly disagree with their message. President Obama masterfully manipulated the diverse religious climate of the USA to garner support for his campaign. Evangelical author Don Miller prayed at the Democratic Party conference, while the voice of Mainstream Liberalism was heard in the prayers of Gene Robinson for Obama’s inauguration.

It is not unusual for Christians to play into the hands of politicians.

Far more remarkable is the one whose message is unwavering despite the cost of it’s proclamation.

Nietzsche famously quipped that “a casual stroll through a lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”

And on some level he is right. We have a clinical diagnosis for those whose reality is defined by things which do not exist. We call them schizophrenic. They may see, feel, hear and know that they have ants crawling up their arm, but nobody else can see them. They may even scream and try to brush them off, though onlookers are shocked by this random outburst. The reality they experience is divorced from experienceable existence.

Indeed, they may function as though their perceived reality exists. There is a homeless man I often see in the streets of the city where I work. He carries empty bags with him, filled with air. People say he spends his days carrying fresh air from the dock up into the city to make the air clean.

How is this prophet any different? He proclaimed a bold message at great cost. Yes. Might this only demonstrate Nietzsche’s point?

Jeremiah saw the same reality as his peers. This separates him from the clinically deluded. However the story with which he interpreted that reality was so secure in his soul, his hope so firm and his heart so steadfast that the prospect of prison, even being thrown into a festering cistern did not quench his faith (Jeramiah 38:6).

He insisted that Judah and Israel’s sufferings were far more significant than their immediate threat. He rested on the understanding that these actions were driven by the God of their ancient, forgotten religion. These events were preordained and were the clear result of his people failing to fulfil their part of the agreement.

I find it difficult to explain this phenomenon without entertaining the idea that perhaps he might have really encountered God. His cause was not to sure up the powers of his day, which were always against him. He was not trying to save the nation of Israel, as he proclaimed their doom. He was telling the truth. That is all. Not for gain. Not for profit. For God’s sake.

Faith might no prove anything. But in Jeremiah I am reminded that faith is necessary for the Christian to carry out his calling. Faith that there a world more real than what we feel or experience. And fear of God. And love for him and his purposes.

Was Jeremiah crazy?

Or was he living in the truth?

Deluded or divine?

Jeremiah records the days of his youth when he says he met God (Jeremiah 1:4-10). This encounter seemed to transform his existence. It emboldened him to carry out his lonely ministry. Ministry for the sole purpose of fulfilling God’s commands. Extraordinary.

I worry about where I will be working when I’ve finished my degree, and how I will pay my car insurance and reorganising my flight home and a myriad of other details of life. Jeremiah didn’t seem to worry about these things.

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the LORD.”
(Jeremiah 1:7-8)

One thing is certain, his experience is indispensable for the Christian.

It might be logical to believe in a creator. It is another thing entirely to abandon all hope for comfort and acceptance in this world and to live this life as if only one thing matters.

Purity of heart is to will one thing. – Kierkegaard

Advertisements

6 Comments

Add yours →

  1. Interesting post. You’ve written about Jeremiah before, I seem to recall. I have one or two bones to pick/requests for clarification about a few statements you make, if you’ll indulge me?

    “The people of God are ignored or ridiculed in our day.”
    I hope you’re aware that, in America at least, people of faith have tremendously more capital in the public arena than non-believers. It is nigh impossible to rise to any meaningful public office while being ‘out’ as irreligious. I think that occasionally religious types take for granted the privilege and respect their views are afforded in the public square, while the corresponding non-religious view is ‘strident’ and ‘disrespectful’ by mere dint of being expressed. Just putting that out for consideration.

    You used my favourite Nietzsche quote. 🙂

    After talking about how selfless Jeremiah’s message was (i.e. not for personal gain) you say:
    “I find it difficult to explain this phenomenon without entertaining the idea that perhaps he might have really encountered God.”
    If I were being snarky, I’d say you weren’t trying very hard… but I’ll bite, and instead ask if you could expand on this. Is it something intrinsic to faith, and the background of your personal ‘experience’ of knowing God that leads you to suspect that Jeremiah was divinely inspired? Because Occam’s razor leads me to favour a more materialistic/naturalistic explanation (“Ben”, you say while rolling your eyes, “you surprise me”).

    And finally… and entirely frivilously:
    “It might be logical to believe in a creator.”
    …Oh yeah?

    All the best, and nice to read a post where I can comment without breaking the mood of a lively discussion (they’ve been much more fun to read, anyway). Hope all sorts itself out with your degree. Blimey – uni’s spun by, eh? I’ve still got one year left but this one’s going quickly!

    Like

    •  “The people of God are ignored or ridiculed in our day.”

      I maintain that this is true. Christians might have a political voice, of sorts, but it is quickly fading. Popular representations of the Christian faith are usually derogatory. In my generation and culture (Our generation and culture?) there is universal distain for religious belief. The prestige of the church ends with the generation before us.

      As I read Jeremiah I am convinced that faith has a great deal of power. Jeremiah gained no credence in his own generation and I suspect Judah and Israel only began taking his words seriously once they were actually in Babylon. A case of “Oh, right! Now I understand” as during Jeremiah’s recorded ministry we only hear of two converts, though the fact that the text still exists indicates there was a time when his message was accepted. Maybe after his death.

      What intrigues me most if Jeremiah’s ‘leap to faith’ as Kierkegaard would say, in that he seems to function out of belief in God in a far more authentic way than most. He believed that it was better to serve God than to live for himself. That is remarkable.

      “It might be logical to believe in a creator.”…Oh yeah?

      Yup. Personally I’ve wandered too far into existentialism to really be too concerned with competing stories of the origin of our existence, but there are those who maintain that a Creator is the most logical explanation for our origin. It’s a throwaway line. I’m neither a biologist not the son of a biologist (Amos 7:14)

      Like

  2. Your claim of faith being lambasted and on the defensive is not squaring exactly with my observations. I get that the Christian faith is not the sacred cow it once was in our predecessors’ generations (and yes – we are both in Generation Y – thanks wiki).
    A notable amount of media, films, and tv are poking fun at, or otherwise being scathing towards Christianity, yes. I do wonder though if there’s an overreaction by Christians about this. I mean, what I said about American politics still stands and in my estimation that’s not something to undervalue. I’d be very pleased were the paradigm on the other foot, so to speak. Please do tell why you see it as you do: as evidence of ‘a universal disdain’.

    Cheers for the clarifications r.e. Jeremiah. Thinking about this in Kierkegaard’s context helps me get a handle on it, oddly. Well, as much as a handle as someone who thinks faith is an overrated virtue can get.

    You’ve mentioned your ambivilance towards creation before, and I’m happy not to pursue it if you are. I just presume as a matter of course that you believe it was. Created, I mean. Let’s not fall out over details of how. 😉

    Like

  3. -facepalm-

    *ambivalence

    Like

  4. Hi guys! Not gonna get into creation, logic and stuff on here again, but I might frivilously observe that a good deal of science that is currently accepted owes little to logic in its discovery – eg more by accident or open mouthed astonishment at ‘new’ things.

    The people of God in our day? Well, depends where you are in the world I think…….downtown Harlem or Detroit might fit Ian’s view where squeaky clean DC might fit Ben’s? Thats just in the US…….the people of God are still under the same threat that Jeremiah lived under in other parts of our world. From a Christian perspective eg Pakistan, China, Malaysia, Mauritania, Libya, Saudi etc etc…….and of course there are other faiths in a similar position elsewhere in the world

    Like

  5. And I may frivolously observe that all of our endeavours in science (so far) point to a naturalistic explanation for the cosmos, from biology to theoretical physics.
    You don’t get to ‘frivolously’ make that claim without citing at least one example, Mike! I might have no choice but to accuse you of selective criteria like confirmation bias or other logical fallacies in absentia. 😉

    You’d like an example of what I’m talking about r.e. Christian privilige? This is going on in Louisiana:
    http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/hed7y/threatened_to_contact_aclu_for_prayer_at/
    Check out the fourth comment down by ‘jlowe64’.

    In squeaky clean DC or rural backwaters, Christians sensibilities de facto call the shots in the US. I’m sick of the persecution complex of those who never have to worry about having their views heard by the elected officials of the mightiest country on Earth.

    Sorry if I’m grumpy. The world’s supposed to be ending today, you see.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: