I was reading the other morning in Jeremiah.
Before I get into what I read, let me say something about reading the prophets. I fight pretense, I hate it, I despise it. Yet, it crops up again and again. When the Lord speaks to us there is no room for games, play, pretending. When I read the prophets I feel the lack of a gap between me and the Lord. It is like he is in my personal space. You know, like when you get down on your child’s level and say, “Look in my eyes.” The point at which they make eye contact is the point at which they listen. Reading the prophets is to hear his voice so directly that confusion cannot be present.
In Jeremiah 21:2 we read this from the Message Bible “Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, has waged war against us. Pray to God for us. Ask him for help. Maybe God will intervene with one of his famous miracles and make him leave.”
When I read this I was literally astonished! I couldn’t believe the audacity of the petitioner, Zedekiah. He was asking the prophet Jeremiah to intercede on his behalf. Before we get into the historical context let me sketch a few examples from every day life which might capture the dynamics behind this request.
One, the baseball player rounds third, forgets to touch the bag, but continues to run on, crosses home plate, and is called out. He then turns to the umpire and asks if maybe he could be called “safe”, just this one time. Two, the taxpayer has not figured his taxes correctly. He owes more than he thinks he does. So, he calls the IRS and asks if, in light of his mistake, he could skip paying the part he thought he didn’t owe. Three, the boyfriend repeatedly ignores the texts, calls, and emails of his girlfriend. Then, he comes back to her and acts like everything is good.
For years the prophets have been warning Judah about her dysfunctional behavior. God had graciously warned them over and over. He appealed but to no avail. They literally didn’t listen. Now God was bringing the consequences to Judah. Their response, “Hey, is there some way we could skip the consequences part?” It is madness in itself to think this way.
What is at issue is this, “I want to receive grace without repenting.” In order to be safe, the runner has to touch third. In order to be fine with the IRS, the taxpayer has to pay what is due. In order to have a good relationship with his girlfriend, the young man must maintain trust with her.
Have you heard the expression, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”?
Here it is. God respects himself too much to disregard his own ways. This is why he is God. He doesn’t go along with dysfunctional behavior. He never goes co-dependent on someone. He is the only healthy person in the room, so to speak. He will not allow his own people to hurt others, themselves, apart from his voice and discipline.
Is grace still available? Yes it is. But there must be repentance first!
It seems to me that the Christ speaks to us all the time, in loving correction. He speaks through people, circumstances, and through pain in our lives. Rather than stopping to consider what he is saying and attributing what we are hearing to him, we keep plugging along. So what happens? There is a level of disconnect. We slip into theological foolishness and say things like, “Ouch, Lord, that hurts, is there any way you can take this away without me having to square with the past?”
By paying attention to the source of the pain and repenting of it, we can find a way of escape. This is building our houses on rock. Let’s regard his voice as more important than the fleeting pleasure of doing it my way. By continuing in bad behavior we will certainly continue being stuck.