Jeremiah 15:11-21

Of all the descriptions we might apply to the Bible—holy, inspired, encouraging, uplifting—one we might not usually consider is ironic.

In Jeremiah 15:11, God speaks to the prophet. The first phrase sounds like the Bible we expect: holy, inspired, encouraging, uplifting: “Surely I have intervened in your life for good,” God says. And all God’s people say: Amen! Then the irony hits, hard, as the Lord continues: “surely I have brought enemies upon you in a time of trouble and in a time of distress.”

Wait. What?

God goes on: “Your wealth and your treasures I will give as plunder… I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know… in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn against you.”

Um, God—I thought you said “good”?!

It is no wonder Jeremiah is known as the “weeping prophet.” He lives in a time (perhaps like all time, like every time) when there does not seem to be much good in the world. The people to whom he is called to speak have broken their covenant with God. In spite of his own faithfulness, he is persecuted, he suffers, he is isolated, he is insulted, his pain is unending, and there is no healing for him—all on God’s account (v. 15). He says God is “like a deceitful brook; like waters that fail.”

And all this God calls good?

It is always tempting to cling to the inspiring, uplifting, good parts of the Bible. And, for that matter, to the good parts of life. It is tempting, when awful things happen, to repeat cliches that let us dodge the rough patches, and to quote the snippets of Scripture that let us ignore the painful ironies of life and faith. There’s nothing much to weep about if we stop at “Surely I have intervened in your life for good”! But perhaps Jeremiah wasn’t the “weeping prophet” only because of the real-life pain he experienced. Perhaps Jeremiah wept as he learned to stay put through all the awful ironies. Perhaps with Jeremiah, our own most faithful act is to learn to stay—with tears in our eyes—even when God seems to be up to no good at all.

Discussion

  • A familiar refrain of worship is the call and response: “God is good—all the time. All the time, God is good!” Do you believe this to be true? Have you experienced it?
  • What do you do when you believe God is good but the realities of life do not seem to support this belief? Where do you look for God’s goodness, even when things are demonstrably bad?
  • How do you feel about asking hard questions about Scriptures that seem ironic (or even downright frustrating!)?
  • In this conversation between God and Jeremiah, God does not directly respond to Jeremiah’s observation that God is “like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.” God doesn’t defend God’s actions or even God’s goodness. Instead, God issues an invitation to the prophet (and, by extension, to the people whom the prophet represents). They can always return to the Lord. God’s promises are still available to them. How hard do you think it would be for the prophet to trust this invitation after all that has happened to him on God’s account?
  • What can we learn about faithfulness from Jeremiah’s honest response to God in a time of pain, grief, and even anger?
  • What can we learn about God from God’s response to Jeremiah’s honest accusation?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.wordpress.com.

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