“Go and tell Hananiah, ‘This is what the Lord says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but in its place you will get a yoke of iron.”
Jeremiah 28:13 (NIV)
I heard it said recently that “humans like to make God in their image.” It’s one of those phrases that just sort of sticks with me and I find myself contemplating and mulling over for a while. As I’ve been trekking through the anthology of messages by the prophet Jeremiah, it certainly appears that he was a lone voice saying the thing that no one wanted to hear. Meanwhile, the rest of the prophets were actively predicting the things that everyone hoped to be true, assuring them that what they wanted to happen would happen.
Along my life journey I’ve observed that the culture I grew up with painted a rosy picture of success. If one went to college, worked hard, and did the right things, then a life of success was pretty much guaranteed. Preachers and self-help gurus have become successful and famous by reinforcing versions of this formulaic optimism.
I love optimism, too. In fact, I need regular positive affirmation to balance my traditionally pessimistic nature. But I have come to believe that “balance” is the key. Here are a couple of thoughts that rise in my heart in the quiet as I meditate on today’s chapter:
I’ve observed that it’s easy for people to make the outcome of optimistic formulas into kind of personal god. Success, fame, influence, popularity, status, or financial security become the god, rather than a blessing. When the formula doesn’t work, when the outcome doesn’t match the personal desire, or when life doesn’t turn out as expected, then it creates a crisis of faith. Yet, when this happens I have to ask myself what the object of my faith really is.
When I step back and look at the overarching Great Story, the final chapters are a climactic conflict between the Prince of this World and the nations and kingdoms of this world under his dominion lined up against God. If that is where things are going in the long run, then maybe I should reframe my expectations from how I want life to happen and embrace where God had revealed that things are ultimately headed.
But these thoughts really lead me to what being a follower of Jesus is really all about. Jesus wants His disciples to be individual lights in a world filled with all kinds of darkness. He wants His disciples to bring peace in conflict and chaos. He asks me to love others in a world that can be tragically hateful. He wants me to have grace in a world that tells me to get even. He wants me to live with hope even in seemingly hopeless circumstances.
When the prophet Hannaniah prophesies Babylon’s downfall, the return of the captives, and the return of treasures stolen from the Temple, Jeremiah’s response is quite gracious. He gives Hannaniah an “Amen” and states that he hopes that all his wishes come true. After all, Hannaniah has made god in his own image, the one who does exactly what we want him to do in order to make my life turn out the way I desire. Jeremiah then has the task of delivering a message that neither Hannaniah nor anyone else wanted to hear. I paraphrase:
Difficult times are ahead. You can embrace this pending reality, place your faith in God, and trust the Story God is authoring in these events. You can alternatively continue to place your faith in the god of your own image who tells you what you want to hear and promises to deliver the outcomes you expect. If you choose the former, you’ll live, even though it will be a tough life. If you choose the latter, get ready for a fatal crisis of faith when things don’t turn out as you have prophesied out of your own self-centric desires.
For Hannaniah, the fatal crisis of faith would happen long before Babylon destroyed Jerusalem. His fatal crisis of faith took place a few months later when death came knocking at his door.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.