The Man of Constant Sorrow

The Man of Constant Sorrow (CaD Jer 20) Wayfarer

Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame?

Jeremiah 20:18 (NIV)

(Note: This is a good soundtrack for today’s chapter. It was going through my head as I read and wrote today’s post. 😉)

There is painting of Jeremiah by Rembrandt that hangs in the master bedroom at the lake. Jeremiah sits in a cave outside the city of Jerusalem, which is burning in the background outside the cave. It is just as he had predicted for decades. Jeremiah, and old man at this point, is isolated and alone. His head rests in his hand, his elbow propped on a copy of God’s Word. His prophetic words have all come true. He alone stood and proclaimed the truth when no one wanted to hear it. He was cancelled by the culture of his day. They mocked him, tortured him, beat him, and imprisoned him yet he refused to be silenced. Rembrandt captures the prophet in his “Aha!” moment, but there is no joy for Jeremiah in being right. There is only sorrow for his people who are being slaughtered and sent into exile. Perhaps he hears their cries and screams in the distance. It is out of this melancholy that Jeremiah will pen his Lamentations.

Jeremiah is known to history as “the weeping prophet.” One of the distinctive aspects of his prophetic writings is his David-like willingness to sing the blues. Six times in the first twenty chapters, Jeremiah has interrupted his prophetic message to the masses to issue his personal lament and complaint to the Almighty. The lament in today’s chapter (verses 7-18) is his longest and arguably most bitter. He complains about the bitter consequences of what God has called him to do, like being beaten and placed the stocks at the beginning of the chapter. He expresses his desire to quit his prophetic proclamations and walk away, but his inability to do so. He depressively expresses his wish that he’d never been born.

Jeremiah’s unabashed melancholy and willingness to express his raw emotions resonates deeply with me. I was recently introduced to a diagram that describes six stages in the path of spiritual formation and maturity. Between the third and fourth stages there is a line, a “wall.” It was explained to me that most people “hit the wall” after the third stage and revert back to the first stage. They are unable or unwilling to progress to the fourth stage that is essential in progressing to spiritual maturity. That fourth stage is labeled the “Inner Journey.”

I’ve contemplated this long and hard since it was introduced to me. I have observed that it is quiet common for individuals to refuse any kind of “inner journey.” I find it ironic that the Fourth Step of the Twelve Steps parallels the fourth stage of the diagram I’ve just described: “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” The inner journey requires that I search my own motives, emotions, weaknesses, indulgences, reactions, and pain-points. I observed many for whom this inner-journey should be avoided at all cost. Yet, I find that Socrates had it right: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

In the quiet this morning, I find in Jeremiah (and David before him) an unashamed willingness to freely express his deepest and darkest feelings of despair, rage, and disappointment. I find in Jeremiah’s lament the childlike sense of safety to throw an unbridled tantrum before an understanding and patient parent who sees the tantrum for the momentary meltdown it is in the context of broader and more mature knowledge. Along my life journey, I have personally discovered that it is ultimately a healthy thing when I vent and express my emotions, even the dark ones, in productive ways rather than stuff them inside and ignore them until they begin to corrode my soul and negatively affect my life from the inside out.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

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