Many people are uncomfortable with the words of the prophets, as many times those words are filled with wrath and threat. The passage from Jeremiah this week is no different. In Jeremiah 4 we hear the threat of what is to come from the Babylonian armies, if God’s people don’t shape up.
On Sunday, we will certainly spend a great deal of time talking about how we make sense of the wrath and the anger, and what that means for how we live our lives of faith. However, something else about this passage caught my eye this week, and it bears some reflection. Take a read and see if this part of the passage reminds you of another passage of scripture:
23 I looked at the earth, and it was without shape or form; at the heavens and there was no light.
24 I looked at the mountains and they were quaking; all the hills were rocking back and forth.
25 I looked and there was no one left; every bird in the sky had taken flight.
26 I looked and the fertile land was a desert; all its towns were in ruins before the Lord, before his fury.
27 The Lord proclaims: The whole earth will become a desolation, but I will not let it be destroyed completely.
I don’t know about you, but I hear a reflection of the creation story from Genesis 1. What God is seeing is the way that we are undoing the good creation that God has made through our actions. Jeremiah wanted us to see that the ways that we have been unfaithful at times have led to the undoing of the world around us.
These are important words, at an important time in history. This past year has been filled with news stories that are tucked back behind the main headlines that tell us some rather disturbing things are happening in the world around us. There have been stories about permanent ice loss in the arctic and Antarctic. There have been stories about the temperature of the whole globe rising by a degree and a half. That same temperature increase is affecting the oceans as well. We are hitting milestones in the condition of the earth that scientists did not believe would happen for many more years.
Now, I know that some of you do not think that these changes in the globe are connected to human activity. The politics of the global climate change crisis often still point to other factors. Perhaps that is the case. At this point though, I think most people accept that there are some disturbing changes afoot. However, let us think about the theological case here, and put politics aside.
There are changes happening. Big ones. Scary ones. What we can learn from the prophets, and Jeremiah 4 in particular, is that there are warnings about changes on the way. If Jeremiah is to be seen as a sample case, we tend to ignore warnings. Jeremiah is the story of how God warns (repeatedly) the Israelites from playing political games with their big bad neighbors, the Babylonians. Yet, the powers that be in Israel continue to ignore God’s warnings. In the end, what comes to pass is much like what Jeremiah has written about in this passage—the undoing of the world as the Israelites knew it. The undoing of God’s good creation as they were hauled away into slavery and exile by the Babylonians.
We will spend some time talking about how we make sense of these anger and wrath passages on Sunday, but in the meantime, let us acknowledge that there are consequences to our actions. The actions of the Israelites led to the undoing of their world. These words from Jeremiah seem to suggest that seeing the world unravel as we are seeing it now, may be a warning to us, that some things need to change. Even if there are other causes to the global climate crisis, it cannot be denied that we could be doing a much better job caring for God’s good creation than we have been doing. At the moment, it seems we are content to ignore the warning signs around us, come what may.
Perhaps one prime example of this is what has not been in the news until this week. For months, there has been a standoff between a major international oil corporation and the Lakota Sioux tribes in North Dakota. There have been some serious underhanded dealings that have led to a pipeline being built in the Lakota Sioux’s backyard and across their main source of water. Much of the situation is the result of dubious deals between the US government and the tribe 50+ years ago. I am willing to grant, that maybe there is another side to this story. However, I am also fairly convinced that the reason we have not heard more about this story is that the corporations who bankrolled this pipeline also happen to be the ones who have a controlling interest in the news media. It wasn’t until last weekend, when dogs were sicked on protestors and pepper spray used, that the internet lit up with this story and major news media had no choice but to start mentioning it.
Again, maybe there is another side, but shouldn’t this come as a reminder that perhaps we have been ignoring warning signs all around us as well? The prophets are a voice that is there to draw our attention to the things that we are content to ignore. The prophets are the ones that are not popular, because they tell us what we do not want to hear. But the prophets are also the ones that are there to wake us up before it is too late. Things didn’t work out so well for the Israelites when their world was undone by ignoring the warning signs all around them. Will we repeat their mistakes?