Christopher J. H. Wright QuotesChristopher J. H. Wright is an Anglican clergyman and an Old Testament scholar. He is currently the International Ministries Director of Langham Partnership International.
Old Testament Israel had some foundational pillars of faith. They were true and robust and God given. The trouble was that people had come to trust in them merely by repeating them, without paying any attention to the ethical implications of what their faith should mean in how they lived. They believed God had given them their land. He had. But they had not lived in it in either gratitude or obedience. They had not fulfilled any of the conditions that Deuteronomy had made so clear.
God has made us humans in God’s own image. So therefore the highest way to talk about God is by some kind of analogy with ourselves. So, naturally, if we who are finite and sinful suffer in multiple ways because of sin and evil and the horrible things that happen in our world, how much more does God, who is infinite, sinless, and knows the totality of all that happens to everybody, suffer pain and heartache at the suffering of his human and non-human creation – and be angry at all that causes it?
What is so striking in the book of Jeremiah is how many times it is impossible to distinguish between the words of Jeremiah and the words of God, when deep feelings are being expressed. That is probably intentional. The prophet not only speaks what God says, he also feels what God feels. The tears of the prophet are the tears of God.
The whole earth, then, belongs to Jesus. It belongs to him by right of creation, by right of redemption and by right of future inheritance – as Paul affirms in the magnificent cosmic declaration of Colossians 1:15-20. So wherever we go in his name, we are walking on his property. There is not an inch of the planet that does not belong to Christ. Mission then is an authorized activity carried out by tenants on the instructions of the owner of the property.
The Jews believed they were the nation God had chosen among all the nations. And they were. But that did not give them immunity to God’s judgment. Like the nations, they too would feel God’s wrath if they refused to live in God’s ways. Furthermore, God could deal with other nations in mercy as well as judgment. Jeremiah was full of surprises, as against the popular religious assumptions of his day. That’s perhaps why some people, when they encountered Jesus, thought he was very like Jeremiah. He turned things upside down.
We tend to speak of sin in very personal and individual terms. Jeremiah does not downplay that, but he also sees how a whole society can be bound up in the tentacles of sin, in the assumptions that everybody around you makes, about how it becomes easier to sin than not to, and how we can become so confused and contradictory in our reactions, when sin is pointed out.
Perhaps preachers today need to think about the assumptions that are common in their congregation – the plausibilities and comforting assurances – which may in themselves have biblical truth, but can easily become insurance policies waved around as immunity from any kind of serious evaluation of how we are living, whether we are truly following the Lord Jesus in the way he walked, whether we are doing righteousness and justice as God commanded.