“My Name is Earl” is a good-natured television series that uses a Westernized concept of Karma as its theme. This often makes it a satisfying show to watch, as Earl’s “continuing mission” is to right the wrongs that have resulted from his actions in the past. While there is always more to be done, watching the show unfold it is easy to believe Karma is indeed at work.
In contrast, it can be unsatisfying to read chapter 4 of Jeremiah, since what God is doing to the people of Judah seems wrong. This is the God no one wants to believe in. In the first 3 chapters God speak through Jeremiah saying how unfaithful the people have been and if they’d only return, God would deliver them. Chapter three ends with just such a confession.
The people say…
come to you;
For you are
the LORD our God.
hills are a delusion,
on the mountains.
Truly in the
LORD our God
salvation of Israel (Jeremiah 3: 22 – 23)
“Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us; for we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our ancestors, from our youth even to this day; and we have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God (Jeremiah 3: 25).”
Despite the change of heart in the people, there is no change of heart in God. God continues to talk about the destruction that God is bringing to them.
standard toward Zion,
safety, do not delay,
For I am
bringing evil from the north,
And a great
destruction (Jeremiah 4: 6).”
and your doings
Have brought this upon you.
This is your
doom; how bitter it is!
It has reached your very heart (Jeremiah 4:
What do we do with this unlikeable God? Some would say simply that Jesus brings a new way, but Jesus combines calling God “abba” (daddy) with vivid images of God’s retribution against those who choose not to follow. But this is a story for another day.
During the time of Jeremiah, the Assyrians came down from the North to expand their territory. Of course, they had the chariots, the horses, and the armies to succeed. The people of God in the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah knew they were coming and that they could not stand against them. Their fear is palpable as Jeremiah gives the Israelites voice: “My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain…Disaster over takes disaster, the whole of land is laid wasted. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment (Jeremiah 4: 19-20).”
Listen! Before you decide God is unfair, and this prophetic scripture meaningless to us today, answer this: Has there not been a time in your life or in the life of someone you know where disaster followed disaster despite their faithfulness? Are there times when wrong rolls over right, when, as the TV show would put it, Karma seems dormant?
In the midst of the storm, we hear, in one line, the prophet’s own voice: “Ah, Lord GOD, how utterly you have deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you,’ even while the sword is at the throat (Jeremiah 4: 10).” Far from giving up on God, the prophet deems to question–to wrestle with God. While the relentlessness of God’s words spoken through the prophet matches the single minded marching of the armies from the North, it is not the only voice that speaks.
And so…when disaster strikes and you are wondering what you’ve done to deserve it (as we all do), scripture reveals that, while that judge is a powerful voice, there is more we need to listen to. Perhaps it is more than you deserve, and you need to allow your soul to cry out how long? And perhaps you need to wrestle with God like Jacob, question like Jeremiah, and not give up until you have some understanding, a way forward with God.
Scripture does not make God into only a kind and gentle, easily quotable, source of inspiration. Sometimes we have to fight to hang on to God, just as God fights to hang
on to us. In that choice to not let go of the other, we find our way.