Thursday, February 27, 2014


"I don't like Jeremiah."

That thought, unbidden, flitted across my mind as I was reading the other day. But as soon as I thought it, I knew the idea was incomplete, inaccurate, unrefined, and untrue. So, like a good Lutheran, I asked myself "What does this mean?" Just what do I dislike? How and why do I dislike it?

The fact is, I like the book of Jeremiah quite a lot. I don't particularly enjoy it. Like the times in which it was composed, the book of Jeremiah is dark, gloomy, violent, and unhappy. But it is also moving. Its imagery is compelling. Its structure, or lack thereof, is intriguing; its poetry powerful. So while I may not enjoy the book of Jeremiah, I do rather like it.

So what then does it mean to think "I don't like Jeremiah"? Maybe it is the personality of the prophet himself. He is quite the Gloomy Gus, after all, a regular Joe Bftsplk. You wouldn't want to invite him to a party. Arguably, he was also a traitor to his nation. It's hard to like traitors.

And yet, that's not it either. While the prophet Jeremiah may not have been the pleasantest person, he was not utterly devoid of charm. His prophetic acts arrest one's attention and capture one's imagination. That thing with the yoke? Brilliant! Beside that, I feel a certain sympathy for the guy. Saddled with a message even he didn't want to speak, compelled to deliver it anyway. Beaten for it, mocked, imprisoned, thrown into a well and left to die, and all the time he was right. It's hard not to feel for Jeremiah.

So, no.  It isn't that I dislike the prophet. But what then is it that I don't like?

In the end I concluded that what I don't like is Jeremiah's God. In the book of Jeremiah YHWH seems to have a permanent mad-on. The Lord is pissed-off at everyone and everything and seems determined to destroy it all. First, YHWH is going to send the Babylonians to execute his wrath on Judah and all the nations. Then, in a classic case of "Doh! You did what I told you!" YHWH plans to rain destruction down on the Babylonians too.

In God's defense I should point out that the eventual goal to all of this is the eventual restoration of Judah. There's just too little restoration, too much doom, destruction, and despair. 

And then there's the way that God treats Jeremiah. Let's face it, throughout this book our boy is getting dumped on. Jeremiah complains, and rightly so, that God deceived him. He thought that this prophecy gig would be a good thing. Instead, Jeremiah is tricked into doing the Lord's dirty work and then finds himself holding the proverbial bag. 

I don't much like Jeremiah's God.

I'm sure that some of my fellow Christians will take exception to that: "How can you say that you don't like God?" 

But that's not what I said. I said I don't like Jeremiah's God. 

"Isn't there only one God?" 

Of course there is only one God but no single revelation of God is complete. As a Christian I confess that Jesus is God's most intimate self-revelation. But even the revelation in Christ is incomplete. We still see "through a glass darkly." Besides, I don't think we're required to like God or any particular revelation of God. Heck, sometimes even Jeremiah doesn't seem to like his God very well.

I have said before that I believe the Bible to be a conversation, a dialog between God, God's ancient people, and believers through the ages. Theh partners in any honest conversation are allowed to disagree with one another. We don't have to like Jeremiah, or Jeremiah's angry God. 

As I think of it, my favorite characters in the Hebrew Bible are the one's who argue with God: Abraham, Moses, Job, and, yes, Jeremiah. So, in the end, I guess I like Jeremiah after all. I'm just glad that his is not the only revelation of God in the Bible.

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