Lovey lives under the porch. He’s a rescue kitty with luxurious fur, out-of-place on the bare dirt in the dark where the scorpions and skinks are. I’ve given up trying to make him comfortable elsewhere, like in a cozy cat bed on the wicker chair or with Mr. Tumnus in the garage.
Lovey likes to hide, but every morning like clockwork, he comes to the front window where I’m sitting and meows. It’s the only time in the day I’ll see him, so I let him in and give him a rub down.
At first he’s catty–he runs behind the sofa–and then he sidles up to me, but only after taking the long way ’round. Finally he braves me, and once his motor’s rumbling, he’s in my lap, and then in my face, his luscious tail knocking over my coffee, forgetting his place.
By then, I’ve had enough and put him out. He resumes hiding, where the grandboys won’t find him.
This is something like what’s happened in today’s reading.
God describes his people’s mastery of sin, likening it to getting a graduate degree from sin-school. They’ve killed one another to get ahead, it’s dog-eat-dog, but they act like they haven’t done anything wrong. They tell themselves God doesn’t see or care; “God’s left town,” is the rumor going ‘round. After all, nothing bad’s happened to them, and since they’ve silenced lesser prophets, they’re not having to deal with those pesky words of God’s, Je 2:30-35, MSG.
Besides, they’ve kept at their prayers, calling out to God when the chips are down, asking for his help and even complaining when he doesn’t respond, but all the while, they “keep sinning nonstop,” acting like they’re not doing anything he wouldn’t like, Je 3:1-5, MSG.
Sometimes they give God a nod or make a show of turning to him. But God’s not fooled. He sees what’s going on. He tells them through Jeremiah to admit their guilt and “God defiance,” their idolatry and “turning a deaf ear” to him, Je 3:10, 12-13, MSG.
Unbelievably, God still wants them back. Even after their hypocrisy and posing, he says he’s “committed in love” to them: “I, yes I, am your true husband.” There’s more in this passage, but this is the most poignant. Despite their being unfaithful, God still offers them forgiveness and restoration. God, the jilted lover-husband, is ready to start over, Je 3:14.
And he tells them what the good life will be if they come home to him–prosperity and flourishing, peace with neighboring Israel, a return to their land. It’ll be just like it was before their rebellion, as if they’d never left him, Je 3:15-21.
But they refuse to come clean. They prefer to keep pretending. They lament a little, but God says they must circumcise their lives and “plow their unplowed hearts.” Words are easy. God wants lives without weeds in them, or his judgment is coming, Je 3:22-4:4.
There’s a pattern in this passage of sin and false repentance that keeps going ’round and ’round, their faking it fueling more and more sinning, while their minds and mouths keep spinning. It’s a crazy turn on the tilt-a-whirl, a life-sized hamster wheel they keep right on riding.
The part that grabs me is that God says he’s still committed to them, in spite of everything. His love covenant to be their God stands, and he’s not breaking it, just because they have.
Sometimes, I scratch my head in a passage like this. I want to ask, “Hey, God, will you ever learn? They’re not worth it!” But God’s covenant to Abraham—and to us—doesn’t depend on anybody’s worth. It’s always depended on God, and that’s why it’s solid.
I also want to shake Israel awake to the relationship God keeps on the table. But I have to admit that I understand their allergy to him. It takes some effort to stop rushing into life and get alone with God, to sit with him and listen to what he says and respond honestly. Who’s got time?
There’s so much already on our plates with work and family life and the other things that compete for our attention. I don’t want to look at how I’m messing up, which sometimes comes to mind when I think about hanging out with him. It’s easier to toss God a bone–a prayer, a visit to church, a check–and keep living how I please. I’ve done it most of my life.
How I feel about God tells me where my heart is. If it’s cold, it’s not finding God as the Lover of my Soul. Like the Israelites, I’m looking elsewhere for lovers, whether I know it or not.
What can be done about it?
Think of “I am your true husband” as a thermometer that takes a spiritual temperature: is God-as-husband a delight to you to read in Jeremiah? Does it feel dear? Or is it annoying and confining, or just no-big-deal?
Apathy comes in “on little cat feet,” like the fog in Sandburg’s famous children’s poem. It doesn’t smack me in the face. It slides in under the door, silent and sneaky, like Lovey who hides when she first slinks in. Her footfall makes no noise, but after a while, she’s got her front paws on my chest and her jaws rubbing my chin.
Apathy will do the same thing. It sneaks in and finds a cozy spot where it can hideout, a little crack. At first, maybe it’s just reading the Bible and hanging out with God that feels too darn hard. Or praying: “I can’t keep my mind engaged.”
Or maybe going to church is unappealing. When we’re cut off from God’s words and the encouragement of God’s people, it’s easy to wander down a path you never thought you’d set foot on. I know, because I’ve done it.
It’s not the gross sins that grab our hearts first. It’s the boredom, the ho-hums, the gag-reflex that sets us up for them. Apathy is a favorite tool of the enemy, because it’s sneaky, and it works. You hardly notice it at first. But eventually, it jumps on your chest and eats your heart out.
Thankfully, God gives us goads that drive us to him–the bill we can’t pay, the health issue, the flat tire on a road to nowhere without a charged phone. Some of us have snarling dogs or icebergs at home. There are a thousand things that drive us crazy or to Jesus for relief. God doesn’t let us live life on happy-auto-pilot.
What will he do to bring us running?
Whatever it takes.
It’s not my faithfulness that draws me to you, God. It’s not my discipline. It’s needing a cup of cold water in the desert, and you’re the only one serving. It’s feeling desolate on many fronts and finding your “True Husband Here” sign flashing and welcoming, as relieving as a gas station when I’m empty, a day off and a paddle in the lake, a shelter in a storm.
Thank you that your love for me isn’t dependent on mine for you. Thank you for driving me to you, and for being glad to see me, no matter how long it’s been.
There are perks when we find our way home…
Paul writes about relationship crazy glue. The Message calls it “glory-strength,” a strength empowered by Jesus that holds on in trust. It doesn’t mainly act. It mainly waits in faith for God to act—to set everything that matters right for us, Co 1:21-23.
Paul tells the Colossians that God gives them glory-strength. It’s not the “grim strength of gritting your teeth,” but the kind of strength that sticks and “endures what’s unendurable.” It lives in joy, and it gives thanks to the Father, “who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us,” Co 1:10-12, MSG.
What’s more, Jesus’ death and rising was all about setting things right. He brings “…all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe…together in vibrant harmonies.” This glory-glue is powerful stuff, 1:19-20, MSG.
There are things that come up for each of us that are beyond us. But thanks to Jesus, we can trust God in hard situations, not get taken in by who might be against us. He’s got you and he’s got this, and whatever your “this” is, he’s putting it back together for you. This is why Jesus came, Co 1:17, 22.
Besides, God promises to be with us like a mighty warrior, to hear our prayers and cries for help, to keep track of our tears and hairs, and never to leave or forsake us. We have nothing to lose, Je 20:11, Ps 66:18-20, Ps 56:8, Mt 10:30, De 31:6-8.
The psalmist shows us how to respond to this news…
As if right on cue, this psalm comes along and praises God for his might and right, his saving and judging,
“Fierce you are, and fearsome!
From heaven you thunder judgment;
earth falls to her knees and holds her breath.
God stands tall and makes things right;
he saves all the wretched on earth,”
Ps 76:7-9, MSG.
The bottom line from Jeremiah is that nobody fakes God out with pious words and religious stuff. He sees through all the bull; he knows who’s humble and authentic, Je 4:1-4, 13-14.
And from Paul, I learn that Jesus shares his power with us to hang on while he does the heavy lifting. The work to make us his and to reconcile all things and all people, he’s done and is doing. So relieving, Co 1:3-20.
And the psalmist tells me that God is able. He saves the oppressed, the marginalized, the lowly. And he deals with bad guys and leaves them impotent, Ps 76:5, 12.
Nobody gets away with anything. Nobody’s beyond redeeming. It’s a balance only God could extend to us.
Jeremiah 2-4, Colossians 1, and Psalm 76 are selected for today in The One Year Bible.