There is little doubt that in some quarters, my last post would be viewed as bizarre. In other quarters, it would be seen as being fraught with error. And in still other quarters: heresy. That leaves me in a relatively unoccupied quarter. But, I could not tolerate any longer reading Jeremiah 17 and simply being “inspired.” The Spirit of God does not want to inspire me; He wants to save me. This and several more posts will elaborate.
Jeremiah 17, like Psalm 1, presents a choice. It is a stark choice: black and white; right and wrong; life and death. There is no grey. No moral fuzziness. No half-way. It is this or that. Make your choice. Importantly, it is God who presents the choice, implying that the choice is crucial and unavoidable for life as a human being. It is not a choice of chocolate or vanilla, Republican or Democrat, Disneyland or the Bahamas. It is a choice between living one way or another way. It is life or death. Because there are only two choices, it can be concluded that everyone on earth has chosen one or the other, whether that choice was made consciously or not. Never choosing is to have made a choice, by default. All of us, including me, choose the desert by default. I am turned away from God, parched, living in an uninhabited salt land.
I live with this choice every day. I live in “a parched and weary land where there is no water.” The difficulty, the burden, of living in this land cannot be overestimated. It is no wonder to me that those of us living in the desert seek comfort in food and wine, work long hours, engage in distracting activities like hobbies and vacations and sex, spend money accumulating “stuff.” We want relief, but find it nowhere. So we eat more, work more, spend more, drink more, and have more sex. We are distracted but, deep down, the desert is still there. For some, the distractions make the desert bearable and livable for a time, even a whole life time, but distractions do not change the fundamental characteristics of the desert in which people live. In my case, God has gifted me, because I see the distractions for what they are; I know I live in a desert. That is the burden that weighs me down.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Many are inspired by this offer. Just hearing it makes life better for them. When I read this verse, though, I am not inspired. Quite to the contrary, I am discouraged. Jesus holds out an offer that addresses the most basic need of my life, but I do not know how to appropriate it. The fruit dangles in front of me, but it is just out of reach, and the burden of life becomes, not lighter, but even heavier. I do not know how to take his yoke, to lighten the load.
Though counter-intuitive and unexpected, every religious activity in which I engage adds to the burden. In reading the Scriptures, I encounter a moral standard that I cannot meet. “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior,” wrote St. Peter. I am tired just contemplating the effort involved. Attending a church service is a blatant cover-up: the desert persists. Prayer wearies me. It is not a solace, a comfort, a respite. It is hard work. Unlike eating a meal or grabbing a handful of M&Ms, prayer feels like an unnatural activity. It is not part of the flow of life. Prayer must be scheduled, otherwise it will not happen. I practice prayer intentionally in a way that eating lunch every day is not. When I pray, the burden increases even more.
Where is the water? Where are the deep roots? Where is the fruit?
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I have “been around” long enough to know where all this is going. There is a bumper sticker that says, “If you are at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” That’s cute, but the fact is that there is no knot. If I am wrong about that, then be assured that any knot in that rope will keep me in the desert. I need to, I must reach the end of my rope, for only when there is nothing left, will I find myself exactly where I need to be: in Jesus’ arms, where I have been all along.