Jeremiah 4: 1-4
If you return, O Israel, says the LORD,
if you return to me,
if you remove your abominations from my presence,
and do not waver,
2 and if you swear, “As the LORD lives!”
in truth, in justice, and in uprightness,
then nations shall be blessed by him,
and by him they shall boast.
3 For thus says the LORD to the people of Judah
and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem:
Break up your fallow ground,
and do not sow among thorns.
4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD,
remove the foreskin of your hearts,
O people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or else my wrath will go forth like fire,
and burn with no one to quench it,
because of the evil of your doings.
One of the gifts of having been through a divorce that I did not want or seek, that I did everything in my power to prevent is being able to resonate with the emotions of the God portrayed in Jeremiah. A God who is wrestling with a feeling of absolute betrayal, and yet still has deep feelings for the beloved one. The desire is there to start again, to do everything within their power to rebuild the relationship. Everything, that is, except force the other party to remain within the relationship with them. Yet if the relationship is to be reconciled it requires faithfulness and it requires the ending of the affairs that created the separation in the first place.
I am writing this during the season of lent (often there is a significant lag between when I write something and when I publish it as is here apparent), preparing for Holy week, and one of the traditional services for Good Friday includes a long series of solemn reproaches that I think capture some of the emotion of this part of Jeremiah:
O my people, O my church, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me.
I led you out of slavery into freedom,
And delivered you through the waters of rebirth,
But you have prepared a cross for your Savior….
O my people, O my church, what more could I have done for you?
I struck down your enemies, but you struck my head with a reed;
I gave you peace, but you draw the sword in my name,
And you have prepared a cross for your Savior
(Evangelical Lutheran Worship Leaders Edition, 639ff)
Even against the wisdom of Torah (the law) God still yearns for the relationship with his covenant people, and if it can be resumed it will have to be in a new type of relationship. God is not like King Ahasuerus in Esther who is bound by royal decrees and laws, no God is more like Joseph in Matthew’s gospel, portraying a different kind of righteousness. A legalistic understanding of righteousness or a punitive understanding would say here is the rule, the law that was broken and here is the punishment that this infraction dictates. Every action has a consequence, every offence has a punishment and reconciliation rests in the hands of the one who offended. But I use the example of Joseph, because he was a righteous man as Matthew tells the story, but rather than look for justice when he learns of Mary’s pregnancy he looks for mercy. In Jeremiah and in the New Testament we find a God for whom relationships are more important than rules, who desires and works for the return of the departed even while they are still turned away. Who desires nothing more than to resume the relationship as it was meant to be.
Perhaps God is naïve in the nature of relationships among humans, perhaps God is an idealistic fool—or perhaps God loves and that love is greater than the wound that the brokenness has caused.