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September 7, 2016
Remember slinky – the kids coiled toy? The front end would go down one stair-step, and slowly more and more coils would tip forward until eventually the back end of the slinky would ‘catch up’ with the front end, and it would move forward step by step, always the front end leading the way and the back end, after a lag time, catching up.
I recently finished reading and learning from Jeremiah. It is a story of a divine-human slinky.
The people never did heed Jeremiah’s warnings. His ministry did not turn things around for God’s people. Rather, Jeremiah was a first-hand witness to a slow motion major train wreck of pain, death and exile of God’s stubborn sinful people.
For countless decades the people of God had substituted hypocrisy for true relationship with God. They were convinced that if they were faithful temple-goers and tithers that they were in good shape with God. Jeremiah exposes their injustice, their lack of true dependence on the Lord, their immorality and their reliance on political and military alliances rather than on the Lord. The leaders were unjust, self-preserving, fearful, and scrambling to work out solutions on their own.
Against all of this power and hypocrisy and hollow religious ritual what was God’s action? In the face of so much distortion from the leadership down, the Lord did not send a new voting block, he did not send a grass roots uprising. Instead the Lord’s strategy was – to send one man against an entire nation that had become spiritually sick. What are the odds that one man could turn things around? Slim to none. And things did not turn around. The nation experienced the grave consequences that Jeremiah warned were coming.
What then is the point of Jeremiah? Was his ministry a failure? Yet the Lord told Jeremiah from the start that the people would not listen, that his ministry was one of uprooting and tearing down before there could be a rebuilding. And the Lord did flex His power – exiling His own people, allowing the sacred temple to be destroyed and burned. Major pain and brokenness came upon God’s people for refusing to listen and turn back to Him.
The people did NOT listen, and suffered the consequences. Jeremiah, by contrast, DID listen to God. And that is where the human-divine slinky shows up.
As I read through Jeremiah it is clear the Lord like a wounded parent has conflicting deep-seated emotions. Love and anger…grief and judgment…are all tugging in His heart. Consider these sample statements he makes to Jeremiah, “I will not let My pity or mercy or compassion keep me from destroying them” (13:14) “I am tired of always giving them a second chance” (15:6) “I love you…but…I will call for wreckers” (22:6-7) “you have refused to listen to Me, so now I will not listen to your cries” (chapter 8 and 25:3-11)
The Lord speaks often of their hardened, sick, uncircumcised hearts comparing their hearts to hard ground that must be broken up (9:25-26, 17:9-10). While the Lord speaks of a future hope and restoration, He knows He first must discipline them – “I will bring you home again, but I must discipline you, I cannot let you go unpunished” (30:10-11, 31:20,28; 46:27-28).
And Jeremiah is the back end of the slinky. He begins by grieving and appealing to the Lord to not bring judgment. Yet as Jeremiah deals with God’s people, his own heart is changing – becoming more a mirror reflection of God’s own conflicted heart – of love and judgment. Jeremiah suffers, literally at the hands of God’s people. In response to Jeremiah’s messages of warning from the Lord the people and leaders criticize him, jail and beat him, label him a “traitor” and lower him into an abandoned underground cistern with a mud bottom – he “sinks down into the mud” (38:6) and is left to starve and die there. Jeremiah experiences grief, depression, despair, weeping. He SUFFERS as he tries to confront God’s wayward people. And it is in his suffering that Jeremiah’s heart is transforming, feeling what God feels, seeing what God sees, grieving what God grieves. As one anonymous author noted “when He took the lead He knows delightful long cuts” (rather than short cuts).
And so it is that in Jeremiah we see, like an image reflected on the surface of a lake, the heart of God. He too combines hard news of judgment with hope of future loving restoration.
What strikes me – in response to his wayward people the Lord did not send muscle and force. Instead he sent one person, who over time becomes a human embodiment of how God feels. He ‘incarnates” His feelings and heart – shaping them into Jeremiah. Jeremiah becomes a living breathing picture and person of how God truly feels and what the lord wants from a relationship with His people. In other words, God’s message becomes embodied in the life of his messenger. God SHOWS not just tells what His heart toward people is.
And there is one of the great values of suffering in difficult circumstances.
Are you in circumstances that are not quickly turning around? Are you in a prolonged stage where what you have been praying for is not happening? It may be, that like Jeremiah, the Lord is allowing those circumstances to remain so that he can shape your heart to be more like His, and so that the people around you will SEE how you respond to tough circumstances. And as our own heart catches up to become more like the Lord’s (the divine-human slinky) the people around us will get a living breathing firsthand picture of the Lord Himself – through us!
Does Jeremiah’s own experience bring new insight into your own circumstances – what the Lord is intending to do in your own heart, and how he intends to use difficulties to grow us like a living slinky example of His heart to those around you?