In our study of Jeremiah we find ourselves in chapter 8, and in another long litany of judgments and proclamations by God. It is easy in such a book to loose sight of the details and nuances of these kinds of passages and skim over them as if they were all the same. What a closer reading finds, however, is a wealth of knowledge about human nature and the character and nature of God.
In the first three verses of our passage we learn a little more about the realities of true repentance (for a fuller passage see Jeremiah 3:6-4:4). It is just a matter of human nature, for instance, to turn away from God in our sin, recognize our mistake, and make an effort at returning to God: “When men fall, do they not rise again?” But Judah has made a habit of turning away from God, and it has become a “perpetual” activity for them. Additionally, they no longer are bothered with the notion that they have done something wrong: “no man relents of his evil saying, ‘What have I done?’” At least two things can be gleaned here about true repentance.
First, we must not only turn away from sin and rebellion, but we must turn to God and fill ourselves with the things of God. It is not enough to rid ourselves of our sins; we must actively strive to be filled with the Spirit and mind of God. Secondly, an appropriate sense of shame and regret must accompany our contrition. Later in this passage, Jeremiah notes that the people commit shameful acts and have forgotten how to blush (vs. 12).
Shame, in spite of its poor public image, is a necessary component of the human conscience. It is like a pain reflex for inappropriate behavior. Shame tells us there may be something wrong with an act, and that we should pay closer attention to the morality of our behavior. Having said that, there are two ways of getting rid of shame. First, we can rectify our behavior. Second, we can normalize shameful behavior and short-circuit the shame reflex.
We live in a shameless society-you be the judge as to which route we have taken to get there.
Have we become accustomed to things that should cause us to reflect on our sinful nature and our separation from God? Are we loosing the ability to take sin and the radical rift it causes seriously? One of the first steps in returning to God is realizing our profound need to turn away from the things which so easily entangle us.