Palpable Tension – Potential verses Actual Outcomes in Life

The book of Jeremiah says tons about the dynamic relationship between Past, Present, and Future. This an essential paradigm to observe and embrace.

1. The ebb and flow of life here on earth is not a matter of randomness and odds.

2. Events are connected. People are connected. And Creator God is actively involved in it all.[1]

The book of Jeremiah boldly displays an underlying tension between the good things that could happen and the bad things that do happen; especially regarding the state of the nation of Israel – past, present, and future. This tension is clear throughout the Bible, but Jeremiah presents it with insight into the causes of this disconnect. And these causes are very instructive.

The Great Beginning

Look at how the Lord describes the early days of the nation of Israel. They were doing well and the Lord had good plans for them:

“I remember how eager you were to please me as a young bride long ago, how you loved me and followed me even through the barren wilderness.  In those days Israel was holy to the LORD, the first of his children. All who harmed his people were declared guilty and disaster fell on them [those who sought to harm Israel]. I, the LORD, have spoken!” 2:2-3. (All references are from Jeremiah, unless stated otherwise).

“I said to your ancestors when I brought them out of the iron-smelting furnace of Egypt, ‘If you obey me and do whatever I command you, then you will be my people, and I will be your God.’ I said this so I could keep my promise to your ancestors to give you a land flowing with milk and honey – the land you live in today.” 11:4-5a.

Jeremiah interjects into the text his full support of God’s good plans.

“Then I replied, ‘Amen, LORD! May it be so.’”  11:5b.

But . . . things fell apart

It turns out, though, that things quickly went sour.

“And when I brought you into a fruitful land to enjoy its bounty and goodness, you defiled my land and corrupted the possession I had promised you.” 2:7.

“But I was the one who planted you, choosing a vine of the purest stock– the very best. How did you grow into this corrupt wild vine?  No amount of soap or lye can make you clean. I still see the stain of your guilt. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken!” 2:21-22.

This is super tragic. The land “flowing with milk and honey” is immediately defiled, corrupted, and ruined. Listen to these questions as the LORD interrogates his people:

“The LORD says: ‘What did your ancestors find wrong with me that led them to stray so far from me? They worshiped worthless idols, only to become worthless themselves’”. 2:5.

“’Why do you accuse me of doing wrong? You are the ones who have rebelled,’ says the LORD.” 2:29.

“O my people, listen to the words of the LORD! Have I been like a desert to Israel?  Have I been to them a land of darkness? Why then do my people say, ‘At last we are free from God! We don’t need him anymore!’  Does a young woman forget her jewelry? Does a bride hide her wedding dress? Yet for years on end my people have forgotten me.”  2:31-32.

“Why do these people stay on their self-destructive path?  Why do the people of Jerusalem refuse to turn back? They cling tightly to their lies and will not turn around.  I listen to their conversations and don’t hear a word of truth. Is anyone sorry for doing wrong?  Does anyone say, ‘What a terrible thing I have done’? No! All are running down the path of sin as swiftly as a horse galloping into battle!” 8:5-6.

And . . . there is heartache expressed in many of the LORD’s words.

The Lord’s good plans are constantly frustrated.

“I thought to myself, ‘I would love to treat you as my own children!’ I wanted nothing more than to give you this beautiful land – the finest possession in the world. I looked forward to your calling me ‘Father,’ and I wanted you never to turn from me. But you have been unfaithful to me, you people of Israel!” 3:19-20a.

“Your wickedness has deprived you of these wonderful blessings. Your sin has robbed you of all these good things.” 5:25.

“Time after time I sent you prophets, who told you, ‘Turn from your wicked ways, and start doing things right. Stop worshiping other gods so that you might live in peace here in the land I have given to you and your ancestors.’ But you would not listen to me or obey me.” 35:15 (This is an oft-repeated theme, see also 25:4-6, 26:5, 29:19).

And … the LORD is angry, no, furious!

A majority of the text of Jeremiah is painted in the red of anger. It is not fluffy, uplifting, “heavenly” language. It is severe. It is cutting. It is confrontational. It is this type of language and subject matter that perhaps keeps people away from studying this grand book. Here is a sample:

“I looked, and the fertile fields had become a wilderness. The towns lay in ruins, crushed by the LORD’s fierce anger.” 4:26.

“Pack your bags and prepare to leave; the siege is about to begin. For this is what the LORD says: ‘Suddenly, I will fling out all you who live in this land. I will pour great troubles upon you, and at last you will feel my anger.’” 10:17-18.

“I myself will fight against you with a strong hand and a powerful arm, for I am very angry. You have made me furious!” 21:5.

“Look! The LORD’s anger bursts out like a storm, a driving wind that swirls down on the heads of the wicked. The fierce anger of the LORD will not diminish until it has finished all he has planned. In the days to come you will understand all this.” 30:23-24.

“You expect to fight the Babylonians, but the men of this city are already as good as dead, for I have determined to destroy them in my terrible anger. I have abandoned them because of all their wickedness.” 33:5.

“These things happened because of the LORD’s anger against the people of Jerusalem and Judah, until he finally banished them from his presence and sent them into exile”. 52:3.

These hardships and disasters were not the LORD’s choice. They resulted from the peoples’ choices. Tension remains over what could have been, what was supposed to have been. But rather than thriving, the people experienced defeat and disaster. The good things God planned did not transpire.

This raises a lot of questions. A close reading and careful evaluation of the text of Jeremiah will lead one to believe the future is contingent;[2] it is conditional, based on people’s behavior and choices. It is not totally predetermined and confined by the creator. Please continue reading.

Summary for now

The book of Jeremiah speaks volumes about the relationship[3] between the Lord and his people. It began well, with the people excited by their privilege and welcoming their closeness to the LORD. But quickly,  distance grew as the people wandered away from their Savior and Provider. This both grieved and angered the LORD and brought grave consequences to their life and welfare. The LORD is deeply invested in his people’s wellbeing. The entire world would be a different place if the utopian relationship could have continued. The LORD called Abram and promised him great things (more than just the wonderful land). The plan was to use Abraham’s descendants to spread the knowledge of God and thereby extend this utopian relationship by fulfilling the promise, “I will bless those who bless you and … All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Gen. 12:3.


[1] To say that God is “involved” (as used here) does not necessarily state that he “controls” or “dictates” or even “planned” everything in exact detail.

[2] A key word in Jeremiah is the little word “if”. More will be said about this in the pages to come.

[3] Another key term, and a concept that is crucial to understanding the nature of God and his actions in dealing with people. God is above all else a relational being.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s