My unwillingness to go there


1How the Lord in his anger has humiliated daughter Zion! He has thrown down from heaven to earth the splendor of Israel; he has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger.

2The Lord has destroyed without mercy all the dwellings of Jacob; in his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of daughter Judah; he has brought down to the ground in dishonor the kingdom and its rulers.

3He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn his right hand from them in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around.

4He has bent his bow like an enemy, with his right hand set like a foe; he has killed all in whom we took pride in the tent of daughter Zion; he has poured out his fury like fire.

5The Lord has become like an enemy; he has destroyed Israel; He has destroyed all its palaces, laid in ruins its strongholds, and multiplied in daughter Judah mourning and lamentation.

6He has broken down his booth like a garden, he has destroyed his tabernacle; the LORD has abolished in Zion festival and sabbath, and in his fierce indignation has spurned king and priest.

7The Lord has scorned his altar, disowned his sanctuary; he has delivered into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; a clamor was raised in the house of the LORD as on a day of festival.

8The LORD determined to lay in ruins the wall of daughter Zion; he stretched the line; he did not withhold his hand from destroying; he caused rampart and wall to lament; they languish together.

9Her gates have sunk into the ground; he has ruined and broken her bars; her king and princes are among the nations; guidance is no more, and her prophets obtain no vision from the LORD.

Hey, Jeremiah, I get that you’re sad. You’re angry. Your great city has been laid to waste. Your people have been decimated. Your homes, your land, your treasure, your heritage…all set to ruin. I can’t imagine what that’s like. I know that this is not just something that happens in ancient times. This is what is happening in Syria as we speak.

And that’s why I can’t go where Jeremiah goes with this. For Jeremiah, this was God’s work. Not only that, but the prophet sees that Yahweh was perfectly justified in committing these atrocities because of the sins of the people. I’m sorry… I’m not willing to go there.

God isn’t currently smiting Syria because of the sins of the people of Syria. Politicians, in that region of the world and beyond, have made decisions that are affecting the people. Greed is involved. Politics are involved. Fear is involved. Yes, religion is involved to an extent, but to say this is God’s doing ignores the very real consequences that people’s actions have. It also says some things about the pernicious nature of God’s wrath that I’m just not willing to accept.

With all of the things that have been happening in my life this year, I have been careful to avoid asking God “why are you doing this to me?” I did it to me. Some others have contributed, but I refuse to lose my agency and pass the buck to God. I think this is important for two main reasons. First, there are people today saying that if certain candidates don’t win, God’s wrath will fall upon our country. That is a really unhelpful and flat out dangerous understanding of God. Second, I genuinely don’t believe that God intervenes in human affairs this way. I have to confess that I paused a long time before I typed that sentence. What I believe about God has shifted so much in recent years. I think God is with the people of Syria; crying with them, fleeing with them, seeking shelter with them. I don’t think God caused their plight. I think God was with the people of Jeremiah’s Jerusalem even when they could not sense the Divine presence. And I think God is with me. Sometimes, that’s the only thing that keeps me going.

I guess this is less of a confession than an admission of theological shifts. Sometimes it feels like I need to confess those as well. I lament for the people of the Ivory Coast, Brussels, Syria, Palestine, and those who suffer throughout the world. I lament my own suffering, but I will not blame God for it. Any of it. I just can’t go there.

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