Why do I struggle with the concept that God has the right to do as He pleases with His creation? I want fairness, and it doesn’t FEEL fair for God to choose one person for special purposes and another for common use.
Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:21 NIV)
With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. (Jeremiah 27:5 NIV Emphasis added)
I can view my story from an egocentric viewpoint or a theocentric one. I can read the story of Pinocchio through his eyes or through the Woodcarver’s who created Pinocchio in love for a relationship. The only safe place for Pinocchio was in his father’s house and under his creator’s care. He could have had greater adventures, in safety, had he stayed with Geppetto, but he ran away. His rebellion resulted in grief, but then he found redemption when he returned to his maker.
When I think “birth” instead of “creation,” I have a paradigm shift in my response to “unfair.” I am a baby, then a child, adolescent, and adult in God’s kingdom. But even as an adult, I never outgrow the need to be loved and cared for. The danger as an adult is to think I’m self-sufficient.
“Your words were found and I ate them, and Your Word was to me a joy and the rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O Lord, God of Hosts.” (Jeremiah15:16)
Thought #1. What did Jeremiah mean by eating God’s words? I think about the word biblio-idolatry (the worship of the Bible). This is the person who studies every word, shade of meaning, and explanation but never falls in love with the author (The Word Himself). It’s the person who can’t let go of the literal to read in context. Or the one who boasts in the ability to find any verse, quote any passage. They’ve fallen in love with the beauty of the language, or they use verses to beat people over the head.
That was not the case with Jeremiah. He had a relationship with the author of the words, and therefore the words were sweet to him. When my husband says to me, “I love you,” I cherish his words. If an acquaintance says, “I love you” because I happened to be kind to her, the words do not hold the same impact as someone I deeply cherish. I can thank her politely and then flick them away. I don’t “eat her words and enjoy their sweetness” like I do when Scott says them.
Thought #2. What does it mean “I am called by Your Name”? My maiden name was assigned by default from my father, and I inherited my last name by marriage. My given middle name, however, belongs to my paternal grandmother. I am “called by my grandmother’s name” means I’m associated with her. And though I never knew her, I want to “do her proud,” as Grandpa would say. But to be called by GOD’S name? Wow! Here’s the relationship as I see it:
In Matthew 23, Jesus lambasted the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. Rude, in fact, according to the rules of polite conversation. I’d be shocked if someone spoke that way to another human being in public. I’ve never attended a church where this type of language was tolerated. Why was it okay for Jesus to be less than genteel? Because He knew their hearts? Because He’s God and He’s allowed to judge? I’m fascinated that He never spoke this way to the sinner, the downtrodden, the hurting, the repentant. Not even to all rulers or rich people. Only to those who were willfully blind, proud, arrogant, self-centered, and self-righteous.
Who or what would be a modern-day equivalent? A lesbian who is seeking truth and struggling would receive Christ’s compassion, whereas a militant, arrogant, in-your-face preacher would get yelled at.
It still rattles me that Jesus spoke this way (as did John the Baptist). Why? My Momma always taught me, “If you can’t say anything nice about a person, don’t say anything at all!” Jesus broke that rule.
But like an illusion, “Things are not always what they appear to be.” The religious leaders appeared to be white, pure. But inside, they were black. Jesus could see right through their illusion and tell it like it is. They were rotten on the inside.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28 NIV)
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33 NIV)
It’s always bothered me that Jesus reprimanded His disciples. In Matthew 8:23-27 it was over their fear of the storm on the sea. Another time over their lack of understanding. In the Garden of Gethsemane, it was for succumbing to sleep. He sounds impatient, and impatience isn’t a fruit of the Spirit.
Perhaps it’s because I identify strongly with the disciples, and I feel the sting of the rebuke on my cheek. The God of the universe claims to understand my frailty because He came to earth to experience it . . . and now I get smacked for it. I feel their shame.
I remember a teacher’s rebuke. Blindsided. I didn’t know I’d done something wrong.
When you choose to wrong someone deliberately, you deserve rebuke. But when the act is mere childishness, a misunderstanding, it feels unjust to have harsh words aimed at you. God deals with children differently than He does adults. I understand that. Would it sting worse to get rebuked as an adult? “Scolded” is a child’s word. That’s what it feels like to me. Like He’s treating them like children.
If a rebuke is unjustified, it’s the adult’s trigger. If I feel anger, revenge, or shame, that’s my issue. If the rebuke is justified, and it’s done in love, it’s discipline and for my good. It has always FELT to me like Jesus was triggered. But that’s impossible because it implies (by my definition) that He believes a lie somewhere.
Conclusion: I don’t like to think that Jesus was angry or even irritated at His disciples (that’s how grownups sometimes get when they discipline children). I think He was discipling, disciplining, and training. In the boat incident, He instructed them to go by way of the sea. I suspect He knew there was a storm coming, and He wanted to test them. At best, he followed the Father’s prompting to travel this route.
Matthew Henry states, “He slept at this time to try the faith of His disciples.” Maybe. Or perhaps His body was simply bone weary from all the ministry. In any case, I give the disciples credit for looking to Jesus as the source of their salvation. “Lord, save us.”
He asks, “Why are you fearful?” Does He answer His own question when He responds, “You have so little faith”?
I want to jump up and defend the disciples. Storms are fearful things! And who among them had the power or faith to rebuke the sea? None of them. Not I. Were they guilty of sin? Or of mere human frailty? Yes, I have weak faith as well.
While in the Garden, Jesus said, “Couldn’t you stay awake and watch for an hour?” (Matthew 26:40). It felt like a scolding and that He was unaware of and insensitive to their needs. But today I see it differently. It’s like He warned them to stay on the safe side of the fence, but they kept crawling over it. Finally, He put barbed wire on the top so they got the point (pun intended)—your obedience could be a matter of life and death. There’s danger on the other side. Don’t you see it? It was less a scolding and more a warning, an urging—look out! Your only weapon is prayer. The Evil One is lurking about. Be ready. Prepare for the attack. But they were unaware of the danger. And though they were willing intellectually to obey, their bodies were their masters.
I am God’s child, and I accept His rebuke if I go astray. But shame is not from Him.
There was a time in the training of the 12 disciples when Jesus let them practice preaching—like an internship. Some of His instructions make sense, but some seem a little extreme. I try to put myself in their sandals.
He sent them out in pairs—good for accountability, safety, and companionship.
He gave them authority over demons. Only Jesus had this power pre-cross. Today this authority is given to all believers (in His name).
He instructed them to travel light.
No suitcase or backpack—no backup resources
No extra clothes—depending on others for warmth
Yes, bring a staff—protection? walking aid?
Yes, sandals—why mention these? In a time when people probably went barefoot as much as shod, it’s interesting He includes this. Rough terrain? A symbol of something?
I suspect going without money would be the greatest faith stretcher for me. I would want to travel light if I were walking to Shelbyville, the next town over, but I would feel a little uncomfortable without money in my pocket and no fast food in sight.
They were to stay with people along the way—go to the town square and preach, and God would move in someone’s heart to invite them home for the night. (Yes, hospitality was the norm in those days, but what if no one stepped up?)
If a town didn’t receive them, they were to shake off the dust from their feet for testimony against them. (And my mind goes to: how far is the next town? I’m hungry!)
I believe Jesus’ instructions were strictly for those 12 men for that event, but are there any principles we could glean for today? Work in community. Do the ministry God calls us to do with the resources He provides. Trust God for our daily needs. Minister to those who want it rather than beating our heads against a wall trying to get through antagonism and resistance.
Preachers love to quote God’s statement in Malachi “I hate divorce,” shaming those who end up in divorce court. But after reading Jeremiah, I now know why God hates divorce: He knows its heartache firsthand.
God said He was Lord and Husband to Israel. After giving them the best, He thought in return they’d call him “My Father” and would not turn away from following Him. His bride, however, in her adultery, “polluted and defiled the land” and “I, the Lord, put faithless Israel away and given her a bill of divorcement.” He gave Israel opportunity after opportunity to repent and return to Him, but eventually God divorced her!
Some divorces do not fall under biblical guidelines, but God said it was permissible if there was an unfaithful spouse. He knows what that feels like.
I wish I could sketch Jeremiah’s word pictures. With strong imagery, he describes the marriage relationship between God and Israel. He betrothed her in Egypt, married her at Sinai, and gave her fruitful land as a wedding gift. But Israel spurned her Lover’s gift as well as her Lover.
God is appalled, horrified sad, and rightly angry. He’s never seen anything like it. “Has a nation ever changed its gods (even though they are not gods),” He said. They have committed two evils: 1) “They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,” and 2) “They have hewn for themselves broken cisterns that can’t hold water.” What an amazing visual! He gave them something more special than the warm springs at Yankari Game Reserve, and they are playing in empty rain barrels with holes in them.
And then Jeremiah uses more visuals:
I broke your bond and yoke to free you, but you shattered and snapped the bonds with Me.
I planted you, a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. But you turned into degenerate shoots of wild vine.
You wash yourself with much soap, yet your guilt and iniquity are still on you. You’re spotted, dirty and stained.
You’re like a female camel or donkey in heat! (Lots of lovers).
The images go on and on. It strikes me that God experienced pain, rejection, and abandonment long before Jesus experienced it on earth.
Jeremiah is preaching to God’s lover who forsook Him. This is Israel’s story. What is mine?
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV)
Jeremiah was a Preacher’s Kid (his father was a priest), and God spoke directly to him. Pretty heady stuff when you do big things for God . . . until you realize it is God’s doing all along. God may choose (Moses, David, Samson, Jonah, or me), but we have a choice how we’ll respond (argument, submission, courage, rebellion).
What excuses do I make for not following God’s command? She’s too hard to love; he won’t listen; I can’t because; I don’t know how; I don’t have time; I don’t have the money. . .
Fear of the people’s response was Jeremiah’s driving objection. God’s answer? “Don’t be afraid because I AM with you.”
Then God touched his mouth and said, “Behold I have put My words in your mouth.” How cool is that! This book is Jeremiah’s story, his testimony. God will not respond to everyone the same way. He’s too creative for that. But we can glean principles from Jeremiah’s life like: the antidote to fear is experiencing God’s presence.
As I study the passages in the Word about the Holy Spirit, I wonder where the balance is between study and experience. My Bible training was all academic: interpretation, dissection, exegesis. If I only have the written Word and no Holy Spirit inside to interpret them, I simply have a collection of symbols on a page, lifeless and meaningless. But if I didn’t have the written Word, how would I know what my experience meant? But Jesus IS the Word—the Living Word. He brings the symbols to life and gives them meaning. I need both.
I wonder why God chose to use words to communicate with us. Why not comic-book pictures? Or is the world itself and its experience a visual? A picture would not be reproducible in certain countries or eras. But words endure, can be passed down through the generations. Can be heard. But for those who are visual . . . I guess God gives each of us the visuals in our minds that meet our needs the best. But then, so do words.
A 2023 Update. After praying with people for the past 22 years, I’ve come to realize how important both words and visuals are. Clients will say, “I know the truth in my head, but I don’t feel it in my heart.” What they are describing is left-brain (words, logic) vs. right-brain (pictures, emotion). Our experience comes first, followed by interpretation of the event. When I read Scripture, I’m engaging my left brain. When the Holy Spirit speaks directly to my heart (emotions), I experience the truth and it gets correctly interpreted.
Quoting one verse or phrase out of context in the Scriptures can sometimes result in bad theology or advice. When I hear the Apostle Paul say, Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, I might conclude I should never disobey government. Further, Paul says if you oppose government, you bring condemnation on yourself, but even more so, you’ll be opposing God.
Yet the early apostles, when forbidden to preach the gospel, said, “We must obey God, rather than men.” And God honored Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they defied King Nebuchadnezzar. Same with Daniel and King Darius. Apparently it’s okay to practice civil disobedience if it conflicts with God’s law.
In context, I think Paul was saying “Do what’s right.” There’s nothing morally wrong with paying your taxes and obeying the speed limits and not shoplifting. You don’t want to be slapped in jail for selling cocaine. The government forbids it. But if the government opposes assembling together as believers, then disobedience is legit—just be prepared to pay the consequences if caught.
A 2023 Update. This question is getting stickier as we wrestle with moral conflicts over sexual orientation and government mandates. Over what conviction are you willing to lose your job, or even die for?
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:1-7 NIV)