Monday, June 13, 2011

Is Jeremiah in the New Testament?

Jeremiah 3:12 - 4:4

Whenever I read the Old Testament prophets, I'm always surprised at how often their words sound like they're coming straight out of Jesus' mouth. In my mind, thelawandtheprophets run together, and I see the covenant with Moses as one based on law while grace comes in to save the day in the New Testament. In fact, the prophets had a lot to say about a God of grace. In this oracle, Jeremiah tells the people that one day the Ark of the Covenant will be lost and forgotten along with the idea that God can be localized and kept in a box. He says that the circumcision of the flesh is nothing without a circumcision of the heart. He goes far beyond the historical questions of Israel's catastrophe of the moment to a bigger, more spiritual concept of who God is.  Jeremiah says that all the nations will turn from evil and be gathered to God.

The metaphor of the passage is that God has experienced failed marriages to two wives (Israel and Judah). Several verses are quoted from Hosea, another story of infidelity that is met with forgiveness and mercy. The wives are asked to return, but not compelled to do so. God will not force anyone to love.  If He did, would that even be love? The wives do not return, but their children do, so the restoration begins. The children are promised "shepherds" who will "feed" them knowledge and understanding. But what about those who don't return? Even the wicked who reject God and imprison themselves are not deprived of the love of God. There is not a divine split personality that desires rewards for the chosen and agony to the rest. God's love is unchanging. The same love of God that represents bliss to some is experienced as intolerable torment by others who have not acquired it within themselves. Jesus' parable of the prodigal son and his father are a beautiful illustration of this. The father's constant love was always there, but it was certainly experienced by the son in different ways.

The options that are presented in the book of Jeremiah are basically the same ones that confront us. We can reform to conform to who God is and receive his mercy and grace. We can cling unchanging to the idea of a limited God and refuse to let go of whatever Ark of the Covenant is holding our trust. Or we can abandon God altogether and forfeit the mercy that sees our sins and loves us anyway. Doesn't really seem like much of a choice, does it?

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