By R. Mark Webb
“That’s not fair!” is a well-worn adage that has probably crossed your lips or mind recently. Parents of small children undoubtedly hear those words daily. Sometimes young cries for justice go unheeded for the reason Bill Cosby honestly expressed: “Parents don’t want justice; they want
From an early age we expect life to be fair, but have come to find out the hard way that reality can sometimes stray far from our standard of justice. A scene from the life of Jeremiah offers a painful illustration.
As Jeremiah shuffled along the dry and dusty road with a clay jar he bought from the potter, he knew this wasn’t going to be pretty. The people of Jerusalem had proven to be stiff-necked in their refusal to listen to God’s words. But this time the news of the coming disaster arising out of their stubbornness and sin was going to make their ears “tingle.” And Jeremiah would be the one to tell them. No, this wasn’t going to be pretty.
But hadn’t they brought this upon themselves? They had forsaken the one true God for foreign gods, offered sacrifices to idols, shed the blood of the innocent, and burned their sons as offerings to Baal. God had enough. “Take the jar, Jeremiah, and break it while those who go with you are watching and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired’” (Jeremiah 19:10, 11,). So, as Jeremiah had faithfully done before, he did again. He obeyed the command of the Lord.
And why not? The Lord had made a promise: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (Jeremiah 1:8). Jeremiah faithfully went, warning and pleading with tears for the people to turn from their sin. But they refused to listen. He might as well have been talking to the clay jar he had carried that now lay shattered in pieces on the ground. Perhaps he had been.
Now the word was out and Pashhur, the chief officer of the temple, didn’t like it. Some people can’t handle the truth. Pashhur took offense, but he couldn’t separate the message from the messenger, so Jeremiah became the object of his wrath. Jeremiah was seized, beaten, and put on public display in the stocks at the Upper Gate. Perhaps that punishment would teach Jeremiah to keep his mouth shut. It didn’t.
When released from the stocks the next day, Jeremiah picked up where he left off. “The Lord’s name for you is not Pashhur, but Terror on Every side” (20:3). Jeremiah was saying, “Start packing, pal, because after you see your friends die by the sword, you’re going as a slave to Babylon. And don’t plan on a return trip. You will die there.” As Pashhur later found out, he could deny the truth, but he couldn’t change it. He should have known, for he had been prophesying lies by telling the people what they wanted to hear. Some people can’t handle the truth.
And now back to Jeremiah. Being locked in stocks gives a person time to think, and it appears Jeremiah did just that. After finishing with Pashhur, Jeremiah started on God. Can you blame him? He had been unjustly beaten, humiliated, ridiculed, insulted, mocked, and betrayed. Why did he have to be the one always bearing the bad news? And what about the promise of rescue? Jeremiah poured out his heart, he felt deceived, and he wanted out. “I can’t take it anymore,” was his cry: “Lord, I was deceived . . . I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long” (20:7, 8).
Denied but Not Changed
Maybe you, too, are surrounded by the sins of those who have no regard or respect for the truth. And maybe you, too, have been unfairly persecuted while standing for the truth and for your faith. Perhaps you feel as if the troubles of life are undeservingly lined up for a shot at you. And probably you, too, have felt unjustly deceived, ridiculed, insulted, mocked, abandoned, and betrayed. It hurts, and you can’t take it anymore. Suddenly, God becomes the target of blame. Giving up on him seems like the only way out. But out of what? And to where?
The 12 disciples faced the same question. After Jesus declared he was the bread of life, many of his followers said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”(John 6:60). Many of them left, never to return.
The stunned silence was broken as Jesus asked the disciples left standing there, “Do you want to leave, too?” A penetrating question that demands a search of the inner depths of the heart and reaches to the outer limits of our faith. The disciples thought. Peter spoke. Listen to the simple honesty of Peter’s reply: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68, 69). Reading between the lines, can you hear Peter say, “We don’t deny it is hard, but what other choice do we have? We can deny the truth, but we can’t change it.” Jesus was (and is) the way, the truth, and the life. The disciples knew that truth.
Standing for Truth
And so did Jeremiah. God never promised the way would be easy. But the truth was the truth, and Jeremiah knew he could not hold it in. Even when he tried, it was like a burning fire within his bones that he could not contain.
Jeremiah also acknowledged that God was with him like a “mighty warrior” (20:11). But he wanted to use that power to bring vengeance on his persecutors. Instead of sweet revenge, it seemed all of the trouble, sorrow, and shame was piled up on him. His birthday was not something to celebrate. Instead, he cursed it.
When our faces are firmly pressed up against the cold, hard glass of our troubles, it is difficult to look beyond the window and see the big picture. Jeremiah lost sight of the objective. I know from experience how easily that can happen. Yes, God would prevail over those who stood against Jeremiah, but it would be for the sake of God’s glory, not Jeremiah’s comfort, convenience, or vengeance.
God’s ways will not always be popular or rise to our standard of fairness. But we know the truth, and like Jeremiah, we must stand for the truth and speak it, remembering that God is with us like a “mighty warrior.” God desires to protect and provide for us, but not for the purpose of our comfort, convenience, or vengeance. The objective is his glory. “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:20, 21).
Sometimes all we may be able to see before us is the next step that has been provided by the example of Jesus. We must stay faithful and not lose sight of who we serve and why, even when we cannot clearly see the path ahead.
The next time you face injustice or life’s difficulties and you feel like giving up, don’t. Stand firm. Don’t give up on the truth and don’t hold it in. Remember that Satan is the deceiver. It is the truth that is being opposed, and you just happen to be the messenger. The truth may be denied, but it won’t be changed.
And that’s the truth. T
This article is an excerpt from Running with the Grasshoppers: Finding Encouragement in Expressions of Faith (Xulan Press, 2011).
R. Mark Webb is a freelance writer in Fort Meyers, Florida.
What do you do when God or the circumstances around you don’t make sense? In an instant gratification society that is quick to measure success by accomplishment, it is tempting to define “true faith” as some lofty destination few of us will ever reach. But the purpose of God in a life of faith is not measured by achievement; it is discovered in the many small steps of the journey.
Running with the Grasshoppers is a collection of inspirational devotionals that bring encouragement by focusing on the power of faith through a fresh and insightful look at some familiar (and not so familiar) people from the Bible. How often do we read well-known Bible stories and forget that they were people just like us? They were ordinary people with an extraordinary God. God has provided us with a record of these fellow grasshoppers as examples for the purpose of our encouragement.
Check out the video for the book and share your expressions of faith at www.rwtgrasshoppers.com.