The Day After

To understand Jeremiah we must first understand the culture within which he worked, and this is not as easy as it seems. A superficial reading of the prophet’s words will lead to the conclusion that the Jews were self-acknowledged Baal worshippers when, in fact, they did not see themselves in this light at all. In a key verse early in the book, Jeremiah poses the rhetorical query, “How cans’t thou say, ‘I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim?’” In this single line, the precise nature of Jeremiah’s impossible task confronts us: the people that Jeremiah called to repentance believed with utter certitude that they were right with God; in fact, they were worshipping Baal, but as they saw it, they were still worshipping the true God and nothing Jeremiah said could change their minds—nothing.

As the text repeatedly shows, Jeremiah lived within a culture of secure religious perceptions. When Jeremiah charged his countrymen with Baal worship, nobody would credit a word he said. After all, nothing Jeremiah preached squared with the religion they had been taught by their trusted pastors. Moreover, Jeremiah was just one prophet among many, and the other prophets all told the people that they had absolutely no reason to fear God’s judgment. As Jeremiah declares it, “They [the pastors]… have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying ‘Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (8. 11). How could Jeremiah compete, given that both the prevailing culture and all of the other religious leaders opposed his message? He could not succeed; he could only predict their doom and offer the glorious alternative of a true commandment keeping life with God (which they believed they already possessed). Jeremiah would not see many converts in his lifetime.

Yet, the false prophets were not blatant Baal worshippers either: as the text shows, they still ‘handled the law’ and boasted, “We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us…” (8.8). These same religious leaders also sanctioned the gruesome and cruel practice of child-sacrifice: “to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came into my heart” (7.31). While we mutter our incredulity (‘how could they be so stupid?’) it behooves us to consider that we, too, live in an age of secure religious perceptions; an age of enlightened theories, intellectual pride, political dogma, and mass conformities which, frankly, none of us Christians would even think to question (openly) if we even knew how. To be sure, Christians of both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ trumpet their respective party lines with the selfish ardor of those seeking to join their own preferred ‘inner circle’ (to quote C.S. Lewis); but how many of us would bear for even a second the prospect of being patronized, dismissed as intellectually lightweight, mocked and ignored by everyone who matters?

As children of the post-modern whimper: we live too much in the belief that culture determines everything. We congratulate ourselves for lacking the hubris to take any true risk; instead, we bow to the larger forces that, conveniently, ensure that we will get to maintain our ‘personal peace and affluence’ (to quote Francis Schaeffer). To be sure, culture shapes us; it can even blind us or, alternatively, help lead us to God; but it can never; no, it can never save us. To live in this secular Christian age requires that we learn to not put all of our faith in the respective groups that meet our subjective needs. Instead, like Jeremiah, we must cling to those parts of the Bible (especially!) that reject even our most enlightened cultural values and submit even when the Bible strikes us as downright unchristian, or ‘liberal’ or ‘intolerant’. To do otherwise is to risk burning our children before demons in the very name of God.

The Christian ‘suspension of disbelief’ (to slightly quote Coleridge) involves imagining a time in the future very different from our own. A time of judgment and doom; a time of God’s wrath poured out upon sinners without mercy; a time without the bogeyman of cultural politics when the only Truth is Divine ‘Fire’ (yes, literal ‘fire’); a time without competing hermeneutics; convictions; or subjective opinions. This time will come. It is called the ‘Day of Doom’.

The day after Jeremiah was freed from the stocks, he cried out, “O Lord… thou art stronger than I am, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me” (20.7). He bewails his inhuman isolation; freely admitting that he is not up to God’s standard when it comes to being hated. Yet, despite his resolution to never speak in God’s name again, Jeremiah feels that same inexorable ‘fire’ of Divine Love/Wrath: “But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire… and I could not stay” (20.9). There are two fires in the Bible: one is the burning testimony of the Law of Love (the 10 commandments), the other the cleansing fire that forever destroys sin and sinners. They are one and the same and neither of them can be stopped.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7162
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There is nothing that can sober the mind quite like a fire and brimstone sermon. I would love to hear a sermon series on the wrath of God. The sermon series could be titled “The Lord killed them because they deserved it.” One hammer blow after another over the course of four to eight weeks. It would be neat if every church in the NAD did this at the same time. Exemplary sermons could be posted online. I am pretty easy-going about praise music, but for this sermon series something dark like Arvo Part would be more appropriate. It seems to me that often what is meant by a Revival, which along with Reformation has been a focus in recent years, is little more than a bunch of pep talks. I prefer splashes of cold water. If we want to strengthen men in our churches, masculine sermons can do that. Not every sermon needs to focus on feelings and relationships.

Thank you Karl for stimulating our thoughts as the Sabbath draws near.

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Thank you for this article. I remember as a young girl when God planted His seeds of truth in me, I didn’t belong yet to any church, there were no human foundations to look up to for guidance in spirituality and yet my faith in God was alive. Nowadays, we have everything we need to be super christians, and yet faith is growing cold. It is each one’s responsibility to turn to God and make our decision as what to do with Him in our lives. Let us all go to church today to give and receive love and grace, there’s plenty of opportunity. Without His Spirit we cannot do church, without love and grace, our spiritual projects are but mere fragments. The enemy has no Holy Spirit to connect everything and everyone, that’s why his kingdom will be destroyed. the enemy will do everything so we don’t connected otherwise we will become a whole, integrated. I think before we even try to find a solution to our problems, let’s make an effort to serve, love, forgive, listen to those who have different points of view than us first. That way we will find out they are humans, (they’ll find out we are too) and if we still disagree after that, the issue will be less heavier because love has been known between the two parties. Unless Christ incarnates into our soul, we can’t connect. Let His Kingdom be well integrated in us, when we are in order the visible part of the Kingdom will be in order too.

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Is “being right” so important as to throw critics under the bus?" tom z

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“To understand Jeremiah we must first understand the culture within which he worked” …

What a promising start (complete with the apocalyptic or Hollywood-grade title) for a disappointing message !

The culture in question was indeed a fire and brimstone culture which, in the name of an all-powerful God, attributed everything to Him, including vengeance against one’s enemies but also any (what we would today call) natural disasters or political disasters as the visitation of God’s punishment for sin.

“For thus saith the Lord; Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them.”

Jeremiah 32: 42

But with the revelation of Jesus and the hindsight of 2, 000 years of meditating and appropriating His words including through science, we know their perceptions were limited.

As Jesus told his own disciples, brought up in the same belief of disasters and disease as retribution for sin, Pilate or the Tower of Siloam’s victims or even the man born blind had not been punished for their greater sin but their example demonstrated the fragility of human life and thus the urgency of converting here and now.

Likewise, we know today through Bible-inspired science that earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or tsunamis are not acts of God (although we still call them that way) but the effects of our own earth’s movements such as tectonics and we know that invasions or genocides are the consequences of earthly rulers’s insatiable quest for power.

In other words and contrary to most biblical authors, we know the Flood could never have been ordered by the Jesus who gave us the perfect revelation of the Divinity but was most probably a tsunami like the one perhaps that “was visited” on Asia on Christmas 2005.

And we know just as well that despite its name the Holocaust was not divine punishment for His chosen people’s supposed sins but the diabolical will of a creature of flesh and blood named Hitler.

So how is it that we can’t retroactively apply these lessons to our readings of these ancient texts today and realize that Babylon’s invasions like Assyria’s before were not really God’s scourges to punish His own people but the results of the power politics of the time between the superpowers of the said time (Babylon vs. Egypt, for example) ?

But that the prophets like the people of the time did believe it and used these events the best way they could ie. as a way, as Jesus later did, to goad people back to God and His ways ?

Because if we don’t, don’t we run the risk of perpetuating the same wrong and wrongful perceptions of our God of love and end up confusing our contemporaries about Him or worse turning them away from such a vengeful or indifferent God ?

And hence, as the Jews in Jesus’s time who expected a national liberator and avenger, of being disappointed all over again and of not recognizing Him when He comes back as promised ?

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Where does that leave the “cross” - the centerpiece of the gospel? Christ is the testimony of the Law of Love - And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. - I John 5:11.

The Adventist paradigm, centered on the Old Testament covenant, never fails to crop up - “keep the commandments; or suffer the consequences”.

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Yep…it always goes back to the law. It will always be so in Adventism. The law, by far, surpasses Christ in Adventism.

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Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” He was the One who spoke them from Sinai. That was also His counsel to the rich young ruler: keep the commandments. Luke 18:18-20. He claimed that he had been keeping them, but obviously he had not been, since his god was mammon.

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part,
but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love."

Adventism is fixated on “law” that does not give a clearer “picture” of our Lord because only love will do this.

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His counsel to the rich young ruler was to sell all that he had and follow Him. The rich young ruler was already following the commandments. Clearly he was lacking something, and following the commandments wasn’t the problem.

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Keep them perfectly and even at the level of thought.

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“What shall I do to be saved good master?” “Why do you call me good? Only God is good”.
Our righteousness is only in Christ by faith. Our own is as filthy rags. That’s why we are saved by His mercy, His grace, and not any works.

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I pick this up as the essence of the article takeaway. The bible is both counter culture and counter organization/ institutional mentality as it opposes detrimental life principles associated with both of them. Christianity gets contaminated by culture or organizations.
I see both groups in Adventism. Those who integrate societal threatening values from culture and those who are institutional fans that void grace, scripture and Jesus to keep the organization in major focus.
I see more "Lift up Adventism " than “Lift up Jesus”… By the way, this campaign of “Lifting up Jesus” is a corruption of the bible verse of what Jesus quoted anyway.

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Absolutely, cadge…

This continual looking back at the law is not what Christianity is about. Law focused religion is going backwards.

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Phil, so what you are really saying is that God (“The Lord killed them because they deserved it.”) is going to kill all of us because we all deserve to die as well. Am I correct? Them is all inclusive, meaning us or, am I missing something?

One last question. Do you relish the dark side?

The Wrath of God can’t exist because God is Love, wrath comes from the evil one and it is he who destroys.
When Bible writers and Ellen White uses terms such as the wrath of God it is mostly to draw attention to our pitiful state and grab our attention, also for brevity. There are other reasons, we need to leave for another time. Read the first chapter of Job to see whats going on behind the scenes and also read GC where EGW states that “God does not execute judgement on the sinner…” The times of Jerimiah and of our time are the same because God changes not, it is the language used that has or needs to change, given we have the full revelation of God through His Son. Jesus did not hurt anyone, sin is its own destroyer, but Jesus has the authority to forgive and the power to change us. The biggest problem we have is giving an accurate picture of a loving God to the world, because outward behavioral change through a fear of punishment doesnt change the heart. So why the language of fear in the Bible? Jerimiah and others still didn’t know of the full revelation of God and they wrote in the language that they knew, and it was sufficient for the people of the day. God was for warning of what would come and will still come, but it is not by His hand directly, it will come when He is forced to withdraw his grace and protection from this planet once again as He did during the flood, the the natural world will go unguided by its creator, and chaos is the result.
Lets show the love of God through the example of Jesus’ life. John

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Thanks so much for your thoughts, Dr. Wilcox. I count one more: the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11, etc.; Acts 2:3-4; Jeremiah 20:9), the member of the Godhead through whom we each may experience God’s undivided attention and care all the time.

Yes, that turning to God right now is the key point for those worried about the Tower’s collapse. Very relevant clarification. And Jesus said the man was blind was so that God’s power could be revealed in him.

Genesis teaches double causation–certainly Joseph’s brothers’ caused Joseph’s enslavement (“you intended to do harm to me”), but God worked through what they did (“God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people”).

The takeaway might be: look at any situation–natural disaster, invasion, genocide–for what God is doing, and know that, as Jesus revealed, he is seeking to do something good–which no doubt includes repentance as well as rescue and healing.

BTW, in Primary Sabbath School today the lesson was a set-up for the story of Daniel, taking the kids through his growing up in King Jehoiakim’s Jerusalem, the fall of the city, and the round-up of selected young people, up to just before Daniel and his friends are posed with the choice of whether or not to eat the king’s meat. “Daniel had lost his home and his family. He had even lost his name. What did he have left?”

"Lots.

“Nebuchadnezzar and all his armies could not take God away from Daniel. God lived inside his heart. Daniel had everything he needed.”

:^) Just to let you know that good things happened in other Sabbath Schools today as well. Thanks to everyone for the very thought-provoking discussion.

Actually, Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If we love, we will automatically be keeping His commandments. Based on His sermon on the mount, there is much more to “keeping” the commandments than what we like think. There is a difference between keeping the letter of the law, and keeping the spirit of the law. The young ruler evidently kept the letter of the law meticulously - but it wasn’t enough. Couple this episode with what Jesus also said, “By this they will know that you are mine, that you love one another”. Notice, the identifying mark of a Christian is not keeping the commandments - even any specific commandment, as we are inclined to believe.

Of course, Jesus also explained that to love God we really have to love our neighbor - “whatsoever you do to the least of these, my children, you do to me.” We can’t love an abstraction. Our love has to be focused on other people. That is how our love toward God is measured. If we endeavor to keep the letter of the law to the detriment of our neighbor, we’re not showing love toward anyone - certainly not God. What it does mean is that we are willing to do whatever it takes to qualify for that mansion and the streets of gold, even if we have to walk over our neighbor to do it - I’m thinking of those RCs in whatever capacity they come into our lives; and whom we have automatically judged and sentenced.

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Speaking of God’s “wrath”. There is only one demonstration of God’s definitive “wrath against sin” and that was shown at the cross. What was that “wrath” like? It was not vengeance. It was not “fire and brimstone”. It was a tearful Father giving up His Son so that all people (including the heavenly host) for all time would see what sin would ultimately bring about if we turn away from God’s offer of “healing” (salvation).
God’s love is the answer to our problems today. He doesn’t motivate us by fear, rather He educates us to the consequences of what sin ultimate leads to - Separation from God - and the wages for that separation is death. That is not a “blood thirsty God” but a God of love who repeatedly warns us of the consequences of rejecting His offer of healing us of the damage done by sin.
That is why we need to focus on Christ and Him crucified and the lessons/understanding that brings!!

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Fred
When we consider Nineveh. the prophets wrote about ALL the very bad, horrible things God was going to do to Nineveh. He even sent Jonah and let them know they only had 40 days – 6 weeks left.
So what does God do? Fire and brimstone like other cities?
No. He hugs and kisses them.
And some archaeologists say this effect lasted for approx 50 years.
Hugs and Kisses. God’s wrath.

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