Okay, there are other terrifying parts of the Bible, particularly when hell is talked about - being separated from God forever, eternal fire, weeping and gnashing of teeth. But Jeremiah has got to be one of the most terrifying books there is. Because it blows our Western idea of God’s unending love and patience out of the water.
The thing is, we want to live the way we want to live, yet be able to call out to Him when things get too rough for us. We want Him to step in at the last minute and save us, after we have had all the ungodly fun we could have. And we think that this is really the way God works. That because His love is so great, He will always step in when we call out to Him, regardless of how we have lived.
Of course, we all know that God is love and that His love is unending. And we know that He is incredibly patient, pursuing sinners over lifetimes and history so that He can draw as many people as possible to Him. But we – especially in America – seem completely unaware of God’s justness. We are all about His grace and mercy, yet we forget His wrath and discipline.
Now, let me say that, yes, He is always ready to forgive and to reach down and rescue those who sincerely call out to Him, those who genuinely turn from their sins and who open their hearts to Him. He promises this, that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:9-13)
But what about those who really don’t want to turn their hearts to Him but only want to use Him as a last-minute life preserver? The ones who don’t want Him but only want the protection He offers? The ones who want to continue to live in rebellion toward God yet want to be spared the consequences of doing so?
This is how it was in Judah during Jeremiah’s time. The people wanted to follow idols and they rebelled against God, refusing to obey Him or keep His laws. And so God sent Jeremiah to proclaim judgment on them over and over again, to call them to repentance. And yet they wouldn’t listen. They continued in their stubborn ways, even surrounding themselves with lying prophets who told them what they want to hear. And they thought they were godly enough. They couldn’t imagine that there was anything that they should be punished for, so they brushed off Jeremiah’s warnings.
Besides, they could always call on God last minute to come save them, to spare them from some terrible consequences, no matter how they lived or rebelled, right? After all, isn’t He a soft, mushy God who is so loving that He will always jump in and rescue them from anything bad happening? Isn’t He so patient that He waits around for years for people to call out to Him in their time of distress, just so He can reach down and make everything all better? Doesn’t He overlook any and all offenses because His love is so great and because He is all about mercy and grace? He never punishes or lets people get what they deserve because He is all about the love. Right?
Jeremiah 7:16: (God says to Jeremiah . . .) “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.”
Jeremiah 9:13-16: “The Lord said, ‘It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law. Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts . . .’ Therefore, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water. I will scatter them among the nations that neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have destroyed them.’”
Jeremiah 11: 14: (God says to Jeremiah . . .) “Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.”
Jeremiah 21:4-10: “’This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am about to turn against you the weapons of war that are in your hands . . . I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in anger and fury and great wrath. I will strike down those who live in this city – both men and animals – and they will die of a terrible plague. After that, declares the Lord, I will hand over [those people] who survive the plague, sword and famine, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to the enemies who seek their lives. He will put them to the sword; he will show them no mercy or pity or compassion.’ . . . ‘I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. Whoever stays in this city will die by sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; he will escape with his life. I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the Lord.’”
This should sober us greatly. It should hit us to the very core. I think the only thing more terrifying than facing the horrors of this lifetime – war, disease, famine, violence, etc. – would be to know that you have no one to go to for help, that the very God of the universe has turned His back on you in His justness, refusing to listen to your cry for help. To whom can you go then, when God Himself has decreed these punishments?
In America, we are so used to getting what we want, when we want. We live with abundant blessings, and we take them for granted, believing that we deserve them and that they will always be there. We are self-centered, spoiled diaper-babies. And we have forgotten God.
Actually, we haven’t just forgotten Him, we have asked Him to get out of our country in many, many ways. We live the way we want, refusing to acknowledge God as Creator and refusing to follow His ways as laid out in the Bible. We are much too concerned with enjoying our little lives to worry about what He has to say. And we don’t want anyone else to challenge our choices and behaviors. We don’t want to hear anything defined as “sin” or to hear that “not all roads lead to the same place” because that sounds offensive and judgmental.
We have our own idols of money and success and pleasure and self. And that’s all we want. And we have our own ideas of God and how He is here to serve us and give us good things and keep bad things from happening to us. (And so we ignore Him during the good times and we claim credit for the good things, but we blame Him when things go wrong!)
We overemphasize His soft, mushy love and His unending patience, yet we fail to live in holy fear of His justness and holiness. And so if the time should ever come that we face persecution and trials – famine, war, disease, etc. – surely God will reach down and rescue us, right? Because we asked Him to? A tender, gentle, loving God would never allow bad things to happen to us. Right?
But what if the last-minute, fail-safe, rescue plan doesn’t work? What if the One you counted on to save you from the consequences of your rebellion refuses to help? What if the God of the universe is the very One fighting against you, instead of coming to your rescue like you thought He would? What if we pushed Him too far, and now He has decided to act out of His justness instead of His patient, unending love and mercy?
Let’s update Judah’s punishment a little. What if, here in America, God decided to let Ebola run loose? (I am not saying God is using that as a punishment in Africa, but what if He decides to use it as a punishment in America?) Imagine that Ebola and Isis (radical terrorists who are slaughtering people left and right and threatening to come to America) have descended on America, wiping out thousands with disease and violence. (And I hate to say this, but it's already here. The first case of Ebola discovered on US soil was just reported in Dallas. God help us! And just a little while ago, a woman was beheaded in Oklahoma, and the family of the man who did it claimed that he recently converted to Islam. And then according to the September news stories at cbn.com, a man threatened to behead a woman in Oklahoma City and he claimed to represent Isis. It's here, people. Pray for our country! Pray for divine protection. Pray that God's starts a revival in America. Pray for moderate Muslims who do not know what their religion really and clearly teaches. Pray that their eyes are opened and that they find the Truth that can only be found in Jesus. And pray that Jesus returns soon. Just pray! And don't stop!) And then throw in some famine, when all of our crops fail and we cannot produce food for ourselves. And then, after all this, the survivors are taken by the terrorists, removed from America and forced to live as slaves.
And God Himself turns a deaf ear to our cries. . . because we have asked Him to get out of our country . . . because we have turned our backs on Him, pushing Him away with our continued rebellion and self-worship . . . because He has decided to do us harm and not good, as discipline and punishment . . . because we have taken His love and patience for granted for too long, smugly brushing it aside. What if?
Can you think of any more terrifying scenario than to know that God Himself has turned His face from you, that He would refuse to listen to your cries for mercy, that you have no one to turn to at a time like that?
Actually, I think there is one thing that is more horrifying than that. And that would be for God to let us continue in our rebellion, disobedience, and hard-heartedness so that we never seek Him or turn toward Him in repentance. Happily, self-gratifyingly, and ignorantly skipping our way straight to hell.
This is why God has given us His Word and the examples we find in Scripture: to learn from, to find Truth, to guide us, and to call us to Him. And the wise take this seriously. Let us never forget that God is a holy God, with a keen sense of justice as well as an unending, patient, unconditional love.
And you know the most amazing thing about our God, the One who could destroy rebellious nations in His wrath?
Jeremiah 5:1: “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.”
The same God who pours out wrath is the One who will forgive a whole ungodly city for one righteous person. This love should never be taken for granted, ignoring it while we live the way we want. But it should make us fall on our knees in thankfulness and want to know Him more. It should make us want to live a more honoring life for Him. It should make us pursue godly righteousness. Because that is some amazing love! How could we continue to live in rebellion or apathy toward a love as great and patient as that? There is no excuse! And at some point, there may be no One to call on to save us from the consequences of our rebellion.
Isaiah 55:6: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.”