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.”
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