Ponderings for April 2011

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? [Jeremiah 2.5]

As part of my Lenten discipline, I’ve been rereading Jeremiah and I am struck by the tone of the first portion of this prophet’s writings. God is angry. Actually, “angry” is too light a word: God is majorly ticked off!

Jeremiah was a prophet of Judah in the period 627-587 BCE, or just before the time of Judah’s exile to Babylon. One of his primary concerns — God’s concern, actually — was the apostasy and idolatry of the people of Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. After years of settlement and growth, the people had forsaken the worship of God and instead had turned to worship the idols of other religions. And God would have none of it. After all, these were the people God had hand-picked to be a “light unto the nations.” They were to be holy as God was holy, to follow the ways that led to righteousness, justice, and mercy, as God was righteous, just, and merciful. But they had had enough of God and decided to do their own thing. Their kings made allegiances with other kings, or had fought with other kings so as to increase their boundaries. They relied on the strength of their armies and their prophets had not been true to what God was saying. They neglected the needs of the poor, the widowed, and the orphan. They were inhospitable to foreigners in their land. In short, they were some messed up nation!

It is difficult for me to imagine an angry, rageful, even vengeful God, but that at least is how Jeremiah viewed the Almighty One. Perhaps rightly so. After all, what parent doesn’t from time to time feel just a little tinge of anger when their sweet, innocent young children turn into crazed, rebellious teenagers? And most parents only have a few children to deal with. God had an entire nation — actually two, because the Northern Kingdom of Israel was also in grave trouble.

Two thousand years later we haven’t really learned much. We forsake the One who lovingly created us in the image of Divinity and worship at the altars of our own making: consumerism, wealth, power, security, fame, conspicuous consumption, etc., etc., etc. The list is endless. And the more we grab for these things, the less we pay attention to those who do not have them. Can God be any less frustrated with us than with the people of Judah and Israel so long ago?

One of the things that makes a prophecy a prophecy is not the promise of dire circumstances for those who do not heed the prophet’s warning, though this seems to be what most people focus on. No, the true mark of the prophetic word is the offer of hope, of redemption. Even in the midst of the craziness that is human life, even despite our seemingly constant failure to “get it” and our never-ending reliance on false gods, there is held out to us the possibility, or rather, the inevitability, of salvation. God keeps the promise made to us: we will never be forsaken. As Jeremiah held out that promise to his audience, he reaches across time and offers the promise to us as well.

God is a God of hope, not of despair. God is a God of faith, not fear. Of promise, not forsakenness. Of love and grace and mercy.

Now I ask you: what have our handmade gods done for us lately?

That’s what I thought.

Thanks be to God!

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