If everything were stacked against you, and you perceived certain struggle in the future, how would you turn to God? What would you ask for? How would you pray? In chapter 14 of Jeremiah, we get another wonderful glimpse into a conversation between the prophet and his God. God continues to present a message of coming judgment through Jeremiah, and a brutally honest prophet continues to faithfully convey the message while at the same time communicating his heart and struggles to God.
Now that is a difficult combination to preserve in our lives: brutal honesty and complete faithfulness. Oftentimes we assume that we have to surrender ourselves to a destructive doubt in order to speak with God on honest terms, or we feel that in order to remain faithful to God and his call on our lives, we need to ignore the questions or frustrations creeping along in the backs of our minds. Neither is so with Jeremiah. This chapter contains another display of Jeremiah’s struggles with the problem of evil while at the same time containing the prophet’s prophetic description of a famine resulting from rebellion.
So how does an honest and faithful prophet struggle with the problem of evil? In verses 8 and 9 Jeremiah opines:
O you hope of Israel,
its savior in time of trouble,
why should you be like a stranger in the land,
like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night?
Why should you be like a man confused,
like a mighty warrior who cannot save?
In other words, Jeremiah is wondering how God can act like a tourist or a worthless warrior while his people perish all around him. And before we have a chance to catch our breath, God replies in verse 10:
Thus says the LORD concerning this people:
"They have loved to wander thus;
they have not restrained their feet;
therefore the LORD does not accept them;
now he will remember their iniquity
and punish their sins."
God’s answer, in this situation, is that the problem of evil is directed at the wrong person. Why is there so much evil and why does it seem that God is absent? It is because rebellious people have wandered away from God. It is not God who is causing the trouble, and thus it is not God who should be catching the grief. The people’s rebellion caused their pain.
And then after some more conversation, Jeremiah finishes his thoughts with a prayer. Given all that the weeping prophet sees around him, and all that he knows is good for the people of Judah and for himself, this is how he summarizes his thoughts in verses 20-22:
We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD,
and the iniquity of our fathers,
for we have sinned against you.
Do not spurn us, for your name's sake;
do not dishonor your glorious throne;
remember and do not break your covenant with us.
Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain?
Or can the heavens give showers?
Are you not he, O LORD our God?
We set our hope on you,
for you do all these things.
Three things come to the surface. First, Jeremiah recognizes that he and his people are sinners. Even if Jeremiah struggles with the problem of evil from time to time, he knows it does not exonerate him or those around him from their sins. Thirdly (a little out of order), he acknowledges God as the only God. There is no one besides him who can rescue his people.
Secondly, and I think most telling, Jeremiah asks for God’s name to be glorified. Jeremiah does not pray that the whole ordeal will be over with quickly, or that the righteous would be saved from the pain and sorrow, or that God would stop it all. What Jeremiah wants more than anything else at this moment is God’s glory. He knows that what is best for him and best for Judah is what is best for God-that he would be exalted and glorified.
Will I have the strength of faith required to pray that prayer when the time comes? Do I honestly know that no matter what I perceive to be the best outcome in the face of pain or peril, it is the one that will glorify God? God’s glory is my greatest delight.