In the past 48 months, I’ve probably cried more and counted more sleepless hours than in 48 years before. No, not because of depression – depression deprives the soul of all emotion. Most of the time I am not depressed but rather emotionally involved. There are other concrete reasons for mourning. Sadly, I rarely find any consolation in church services as they often appear like pius shows to me. However, I do find it in the book of books – surprisingly in the Old Testament. In the upcoming blog posts, I’ll invite you to follow along on a journey of solace through my personal Bible. I’ll show you some of the stones hiding seeds of hope that can be planted and grown to something very big. Seeds I scarcely hear in churches about.
“I wish my head was a body of water and my eyes a source of tears, then I could cry day and night!”Jeremiah Ben Hilkija
Years ago I was supposed to give a talk at a conference. For some reason, I talked about Jeremiah. The video below was made for this talk. When I finished, the following speaker commented my speech with “Wow, that was gloomy!” I understand that. Certainly, Jeremiah had his own problems. We will get to know some of them. Love, light, sunshine, and lollipops does not really sound like Jeremiah. But he did have a wonderful task: proclaiming hope. Broadening the people’s horizon. Challenging repentance – not just for some lonely individuals, but for a whole society. Stimulating changes. Like all the prophets of the Bible, he should paint pictures of a better reality, inspire people’s imagination, visualizing something much bigger, way more important than the dull little box of a banal everyday life.
“The task of prophetic imagination and ministry is to bring to public expression those very hopes and yearnings that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we no longer know they are there.”Walter Brueggemann
Forty long years Old Jerry was committed to do exactly that. But nobody was ready to listen to him. Jerry truly wanted to show the way to life, however, his fellow people wouldn’t pay any attention but rather throw themselves down the cliffs. Death with fervor. (Not to forget: We’re talking about God’s chosen people here, not any random pagan. Please open your ears.)
That’s frustrating. And yes, it’s “gloomy”, indeed. First, nobody wants to listen, afterwards there’s no ear left to hear. Therefore, the gloomy frustration of a prophet never finds its place anywhere. Not even in happy clappy free churches. Prophets are and always will remain lonely souls. Ever noticed how many Sunday-sing-alongs the church devots to disappointment, frustration and pain? How often Christians confess on Facebook that we totally lost our patience? How broken we are? Last time we drank too much alcohol? How many times we desperately scream to the Lord he FINALLY shall intervene PLEASE, because otherwise we will not be able to stand it any longer?!
Exactly, that’s what I thought too.
In particular, those young, charismatic, Anglo-Saxon-influenced churches like to present themselves as mega parties with groovy music, cool boys, chic chicks and expensive preacher shoes. Which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. After all, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a party. But everything has to have its time. There’s reason to feast while the groom is with us and reason to fast while he’s gone. If all the church wants to be is appearing like a gala contractor, many worshippers will eventually stay home because fête de la fête might suit a nightclub very well, but as a permanent mode of church it might soon appear pretty bizarre, cause disconnected from reality. Heaven may be a feast, yet life is not (always). After all, there are reasons why so many take drugs. Or their lives, for that matter. Or both.
Therefore, my first and most beautiful hope is Jeremiah in the Old Testament. Here I’m feeling understood: next to the restless prophet, desperately looking for an inn in the desert, the man who sometimes wants to weep day and night in despair about his God and faith. No doubt nor beautifying, Jerry’s condition was a thousand times worse than mine. But here’s the thing: one main purpose of Scripture is to show us credibly that God understands us. We are not alone. That is my hope. That’s Good News and a true relief that keeps me reading, hiking, believing.
And behold! Just a few steps further, I feel it again, the wonderful hunch of being understood. We’ll look at it next time.
Text: Lamentations 3:1-18 (from Eugene Petersons “The Message”); Painting: “Jeremiah lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” Rembrandt van Rijn, 1630, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam