Poor Jeremiah. When God said "they will fight against you" back in chapter one, He was not kidding. We are just over half way through this book and already he has been:
- Threatened with death multiple times (11:21, 18:18, 26:8)
- Rejected by his own family (12:6)
- Proclaiming harsh words to hostile crowds (7:1, 17:19, 19:1)
- Beaten and arrested (20:2)
- In conflict with false prophets (14:13, 23:16)
(We haven't even gotten to the parts where he is imprisoned, where the very word of God he has written is wickedly burned before his eyes, and where he is left to die an ignoble death in a crummy old well.)
In today's reading, it's more of the same. More hostilities, more conflict, more difficult messages, more lies, more rejection. No one believes Jeremiah because they don't want to consider the possibility that they are actually at fault and that they are actually headed for destruction. Instead they choose the "I'm okay, you're okay" approach. Now that is about as reasonable as the famed ostrich defense method (see above picture), but nevertheless, it is the overwhelming response for 99% of Jeremiah's hearers.
Come to think of it, that sounds pretty much like the majority of religious thought in America today. Optimistic, therapeutic, psycho-babble. America continues to search for a benign, cuddly god who ignores our sin and only exists to raise our self-esteem. Look at the message that comes from our best selling authors ranging from Deepak Choprah to Joel Osteen to Oprah Winfrey to Eckhart Tolle. Look at the message behind best selling books "The Secret" or "Your Best Life Now." While these folks may mean well, their basic premises ignore the ideas of sin, judgment, or repentance. They are just like the false prophet Hananiah, proclaiming "peace peace when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 8:11)
Our world is one described well by James Russell Lowell (19th Century Poet & Abolitionist):
"Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne"
But before we condemn others, its important to understand that we all have that same tendency. We believers can be just as guilty of watering down the Word of God to accommodate our personal agendas. No one likes pain or suffering or struggles or judgment. No one likes to be rebuked or challenged or told that they are wrong. Yet that is the very purpose of both Jeremiah's words here and the Bible in general. God's Word is 100% true, and we, because of our sin nature, are not. There will always be a bit of discomfort as our old natural self wrestles with the Holy Spirit. (see Galatians 5:17).
God's Word is exceedingly sharp. It has to be. We expect and demand that all doctors use only sharp scalpels and never plastic butter knives when they operate. How much more so should the Word be razor sharp to cut away all the deception, wrong attitudes, and sin from our often hard hearts and heads. That's why there are so many sword & word analogies in the Bible. That's why Hebrews 4:12 says: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Today's passage is a warning. Its a warning for all of us when the words of the Bible become only comforting and never confronting; when they are only easy and never difficult; when they only tell us what we want to hear and never what is hard to take. If that becomes true of you, head back to Jeremiah, where you can get a dose of good old fashioned truth!