My Sunday School class has been studying Jeremiah for the last several weeks. We usually hear these searing texts in Advent, but out of lectionary season, we soldier on. This prophet had a tough calling, and his words were met with disbelief and scoffing. His time of service is during the fall of Jerusalem, and the worst possible thing descends upon the people. The book of Jeremiah chronicles the dismantling of the northern and southern kingdoms, Israel and Judah. The land promised by God will no longer be theirs, a grave, unsettling horizon.
The work, which could cover up to 250 years of history, displays heavy editing by the Deuteronomists, those responsible for Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. The theology of the Deuteronomists is pretty concrete in terms of cause-effect. If you obey the covenant, you will be blessed. If you worship other Gods, God will not protect you from your enemies. At times, God may be more with the enemy of the people of God than with them. Such is the message of Jeremiah—more doom than comfort.
We know the challenge of reading ancient texts in a way applicable to our own context; yet, the questions raised by our forebears prompts our own examination of the times we are experiencing. We ask a similar question: is the tumult of the nations an act of divine judgment or simply the working out of the fall to violence, which is the hallmark of sinful people? And, as Jeremiah queried, whose side is God on?
Written as a retrospective analysis of what went wrong in the divided nation’s relationships with neighboring powers, the prophet and editors seemed to assume that God determined whoever won in the political-military fray. There are those who follow that viewpoint today, believing that God micro-manages the ongoing machinations of warring people.
For example, Trump’s step into North Korea can be viewed as a bold overture toward peace, prompted by God’s favoring of this elected leader, as many white evangelicals continue to aver. Others view this as a fool’s errand, which only serves to provide optics for a leader whose next move usually serves a measure of self-interest, not national security for either nation. Which is it?
I believe it is an over-reach to conscript God’s favor for our political calculations, as if God has a pre-determined plan for each discrete nation, political party, or individual leader. God does play the long game, rather, seeking to influence all toward justice, mercy, and flourishing. Our prayers to God about present circumstances should prompt our own actions to mend the world. God is always on that side.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping Church, and serving humanity and all creation.