It’s a fairly regular occurrence, you know. A body is simply walking along, minding their own business, when a voice whispers from the alleyway. “Psst… I’ve got something for you.” Little does that body know what lies within that creeping darkness – the stark reality that faces them as the prophet proceeds to dress them down.
What do you mean that’s never happened to you? I had thought that moment in New York was a little weird…
Anyway, I’ve been getting my own little dressing down while reading Jeremiah. It’s strange how relevant the Prophets are even today. Gives weight to Jesus’ phrase about the words not fading. Jeremiah was writing to Judah warning them to turn back to God before their lifestyle led them straight into the not-so-loving arms of Babylon (or as Jeremiah says “the North.”) So what was Judah’s problem? Well, there were two problems.
The first was the lack of proper worship. Sure, Judah was visiting the Temple, observing the festivals and sacrifices, and saying the right words. Everything’s cool, right? It would be, if they weren’t also hedging their bets and praying to the Canaanite idols. There were some extra sacrifices, and even some children given to the fire to prove devotion – and the priests even encouraged that behavior. God in one instance even says to not bother about proper sacrifice protocol, since they didn’t seem to care about his guidelines about worshiping one God.
And we worship some extra gods ourselves, don’t we? “What? No,” you say. Well, the culture at large worships some gods. Some worship Roma, the goddess of nation. Some put their idea of national identity before anything else. Sometimes these individuals put more faith in their chosen political party, candidate, or system than in God. Some use political affiliation as a test for whether or not someone is a true believer. Others worship Aries, the god of war, putting a great deal of faith in their own or their nation’s weaponry. Some worship Venus, the goddess of sexual desire, bowing to pornography and selfishly using sex to gratify themselves. Some worship Plutus, the god of wealth, only feeling secure when enough money is in their bank account – and trusting only that number in the bank account. Some worship Liber, the god of freedom, trusting only in their ability to choose any and every option that comes their way, distrusting any authority that seeks to limit their freedom, even at the cost of personal harm. Others worship Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, eager to serve their master through anger and returning whatever slight might be thrown their way. These are just a few of the common gods in our current cultural pantheon, and much like Rome, many of us are quite welcoming to any and every new god or goddess that comes along, thinking, “It wouldn’t hurt to have an extra helper…”
Second, Judah’s lifestyle was not reflecting God’s Torah or God’s character. Judah’s power structure was such that the wealthy and powerful were abusing and refusing to help those who were poor, foreigners, or the weak. Where God had said to lift up and take care of neighbor, foreigner, orphan, and widow, the Judahites were oppressing, extracting resources from, and ignoring the cries of those very people. Not only that, but the leaders of the nation were making nice with empires and kingdoms and building up an armed force – both actions that would lead to them landing squarely in Babylon’s sights.
Jesus said it much more positively, but the entry level message of the Law and Prophets is: “Don’t be a jerk.” It’s a pretty low bar, really. The trick is, it’s hard to be loving, kind and compassionate when we’re more worried about “getting ours” than about our neighbor. See, Judah’s worship led directly into their actions. They didn’t see God as big enough to handle all of their problems – hence the resort to other gods. And if God isn’t enough to handle our problems, then we go about trying to sort out our own lives and make sure me and mine are covered – often to the exclusion of everyone else. The current American attitude of “if someone else has a thing that means I lose” is a terrible attitude to live. It’s like saying, “God doesn’t have enough love to go around, and if God loves me and mine, He can’t possibly love you and yours, too.” Boy howdy that’s creating an idol in your head and calling it God.
God’s love, care, and presence aren’t limited resources we must all fight and jockey for. If God is infinite, so are those things. Through His prophets, God often reminds His people that He is a compassionate God, slow to become angry, quick to show mercy and full of loving-kindness. Those that lose sight of that fact can be tempted to introduce just “one more god” to help God out. And once monotheism becomes polytheism, there’s no reason to stop at just two.
So how do you keep from having a prophet pronounce judgment? Well, trust God and don’t be a jerk, especially now. Patton Oswalt’s late wife Michelle McNamara said: “It’s chaos, be kind.” So many people look around and see nothing but chaos and want just a rock to cling to in the storm. We already cling to the Rock of Ages. Why not invite others to give up their mini-gods and find that same security?
What do you find captures your trust? What gods have crept into your life? How do your priorities and family calendar reflect who you worship? How do your habits and giving reflect the God of creation? In what ways do your worship and lifestyle match up?