‘I am with you and will save you,’
declares the Lord.
‘Though I completely destroy all the nations
among which I scatter you,
I will not completely destroy you.
I will discipline you but only in due measure;
I will not let you go entirely unpunished.’
Jeremiah 30:11 (NIV)
This past Sunday, Ya-Ya Wendy received a Mother’s Day FaceTime call from our kids and grandkids in Scotland. We watched Milo working on a geometric puzzle while his little sister chewed on the puzzle pieces and banged them on the table. Milo started spouting out math equations out of the top of his head. He has suddenly developed a grasp for math that has left all of our creative right-brains a bit stunned and perplexed. I joked with our daughter Taylor, “How did a mathematician spring from a family of artists?”
Indeed, our girls were raised on dates to the Art Center, listening to music their friends had never heard of, and watching movies in order to have meaningful conversations about them. To this day, we all share notes on the movies and television series we’re watching, the books we’re reading, and all of things they are making us think about.
Along my journey, I have occasionally participated in exercises in which a group of people will stare at a work of art for a period of time, then take turns sharing what the piece led them to think about. It’s always amazing to find both the commonly shared thoughts and interpretations along with the layers of meaning that can be quite personal and unique.
Today’s chapter is the first of two unusually optimistic and redemptive works of ancient Hebrew poetry that God channels through Jeremiah, who is more typically the purveyor of doom and gloom. The prophetic words are layered with meaning for the Hebrews who would return from exile to restore Jerusalem and the temple beginning in 538 BC, for the Jewish people who returned from around the globe to establish the modern nation of Israel in the 20th century, and for those who look to what God will do in the end times as referenced by the prophets, Jesus, and the Revelations of John.
Admittedly, this is where casual readers of the Great Story often get confused, especially in our modern culture of science and reason in which we are trained to read and think literally. Prophetic literature, like all good metaphorical expressions, is layered with meaning just as a great work of art. As I always say, God’s base language is metaphor, which is so powerful simply because it is able to express so many layers of meaning in one simple word picture. How many art works, songs, books, movies, messages, and stories have sprung from their roots in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son over the centuries? This one simple story spills over with meaning for rebels, parents of rebels, sibling relationships, and parent-child relationships. Just yesterday I shared how the story had intense meaning for me in terms of certain work relationships.
This is terribly uncomfortable concept for fundamentalists and literalists who like things to fit neatly inside the cognitive box they’ve painstakingly and meticulously fashioned inside their brains. I confess that when I was a young person, I had a very small and rigid cognitive box for God. However, my entire spiritual journey as a disciple of Jesus has led me to understand that our God, whom Paul described as One who is able to do “immeasurably more than we ask or imagine” will never be easily contained in the cognitive box of any human being.
At the beginning of Jeremiah’s story, back in the first chapter, is a very personal interaction between God and the young prophet. He tells Jerry not to be afraid, that He will be with the prophet, and will rescue him even though God through him will “uproot nations and kingdoms, to destroy and overthrow, and to build and to plant.”
In today’s chapter, God speaks the same promise to all of God’s people. The uprooting, destruction, and overthrow is not done, nor is the building and planting. It will continue through decades, centuries, and millenniums to come. As I read the words of the ancient Hebrew poem in the quiet this morning, it whispers to me of what has been, what is now, and what is yet to come. How apt, since they are words given to Jeremiah by a God who was, and is, and is to come.
I am reminded this morning that being a disciple of Jesus requires of me that I learn to hold a certain tension. It is the same tension required of the first twelve disciples who at once knew Jesus intimately and personally while at the same time realized that He was immeasurably more than they could possibly understand or imagine.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.