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Jeremiah 7-15

08.09.2010

In this next section of Jeremiah, he lays out the evidence of Judah’s wickedness so that they will understand their coming punishment (or, more realistically, understand after the fact why they have been punished).

7:4 | One of the sins of which Judah is guilty is trivializing the temple by idolizing it.  They pursue other gods and act wickedly and faithlessly, then run to the temple for sacrifice, believing that this will make them right with God and free to continue in His covenant.  They, in this sense, turn His temple into a magic box that absolves them of all consequences or obligations.  Again, God reminds them that ritual flows out of love and obedience, it does not replace them.

This is the context behind God allowing the temple to be destroyed.  It had become a hindrance rather than an aid to Judah’s faith.  God got rid of it.  Just as Jesus tells us to cut off our hand or gouge out our eye if it offends us, God is ruthless in His desire to keep His people from sin and condemnation.  It doesn’t matter that the temple was a holy place and the crowning glory of the Davidic dynasty.  It got in the way of the people’s worship, so God destroyed it.

11:1-5 | This passage reminded me of something I recently reread from Lewis’ God in the Dock (I don’t have access to the book, or I’d cite the specific essay).  He basically says that you can’t consider belief in an afterlife to be a defining characteristic of religion.

As many (including Michael 5K) have noted, there’s no clear concept of life after death in much of the Old Testament.  There’s this hazy concept of Sheol, but as far as I understand there is much debate about that term.

Lewis draws from this to remind us that the foundations of humanity’s relationship with God is not built upon a promise of eternal life but rather on a promise of community and relationship with the divine in the here and now.  God wants us to worship Him not because it will earn us a ticket to heaven, nor even as a thank you for a ticket already punched.  Rather, God calls us to worship Him for who He is, for His glory and power and righteousness and love and beauty, etc.  We worship Him because He is worthy, not as a means to an end.

As part of that beauty and grace and love, God does later on make explicit His plan to renew creation and redeem humanity, but as Lewis points out you can see how knowing that point from the beginning would have corrupted the relationship between God and His people.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this.  I’m sure there are many implications of this beyond what I have to say here.  For one, it reminds me that God is not limited to those aspects of Himself that He chooses to reveal to us.  The Bible describes God, but it does not delineate who He is and what He can or wants to do.

I also add this concept to the balance of a debate I often have (sometimes only with myself) as to whether it would have been better to lived during Biblical times or today.  In other words, for whom is faith harder, Biblical man or modern man?

On the one hand, living in Biblical times seems (from our perspective) to have allowed people much more frequent glimpses of God’s power.  As we have developed technology and confidence in our own knowledge and power, we are less and less likely to see God’s handiwork in the world around us.

However, on the other side of the ledger, we are lucky now in that we are born into a faith tradition that is millennia old.  Questions of doctrine, while not finally set, have largely been defined to a workable range, and we have the benefit on sitting on the shoulders of believers and scholars from the generations before us.

Now, I add to this balance the fact that we see a more complete picture of His revelation by living in the time of the New Covenant.  We see God’s plan for the future (roughly sketched) as a means of understanding who He is and seeing His love and power.  The Israelites were just told to obey and worship.

I try (often unsuccessfully) to keep this in mind when I think about how stupid they were to so often fall into idolatry and sin.  In this sense, more faith was required of them, as His chosen people, than is required of me.

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