God's vengeance

I’ve been doing a deep reading of the book of Jeremiah over the past week, along with supplementary historical information.

It is very sobering stuff.

Jeremiah is the Old Testament prophet who spent his life warning his people that they had strayed far from God’s ways and in so doing were setting themselves up for God’s unique, inescapable, perfect and perfectly timed brand of punishment.

Most of the people not only did not heed Jeremiah’s warnings, but some even went so far as to imprison him and try to kill him, just to shut him up.

Jeremiah survived the imprisonments and attempts on his life, and then went on to see his warnings come true in the form of a great slaughter of his people at the hands of the Babylonians (modern-day Iraqis) and the total destruction of Jerusalem, including the first temple. Nearly 600 years later, a few decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, there was another great slaughter and destruction, this time at the hands of the Romans, who also razed the second temple to the ground. God had warned, through Jeremiah: “If they will not obey, I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation.”

That he did, and that he has done.

God’s justice is perfect, just as his vengeance is well-deserved and a last resort. God does not want to impose his vengeance; God MUST impose his vengeance or his justice would be flawed.

This is an aspect of God that doesn’t get much play today in the prosperity churches. We want God to give us good things and forgive us when we mess up; we don’t want to hear about what happens to people who don’t repent despite repeated warnings or stubbornly refuse to acknowledge God at all. We don’t want to talk about God’s vengeance or the possibility of it for us and our loved ones. Most of us don’t even want to think about it.

But we have to think about it, and thinking about it, we have to talk about it. Pretending it doesn’t exist or dressing it up as God is a God of Love who would never, ever hurt us is being delusional.

We need to understand that God is Love, but he is also Perfect Justice and Perfect Vengeance. God would not be Love if he weren’t also Perfect Justice and Perfect Vengeance.

Because God is so patient and because God is so merciful, we think he cannot also be so vengeful. People do things that they know are wrong and appear to “get away with it”, and so take that as proof either that God doesn’t exist or that his vengeance has somehow been tempered over the centuries. But the same God that destroyed his own temple not once but twice and drove his “chosen” people from their promised land is the same God who drove the demons from me at my spiritual rebirth and adopted me as his child. Same God. He hasn’t changed. Neither has his warning that bad things ultimately result from bad deeds, if those bad deeds go unrepented.

Jeremiah knew from the start that his warnings to his people would be mostly ignored, as God had told him that would be the case. Imagine getting up every morning and going to work knowing that everything you do and say will either be ignored or attacked. This was the life of Jeremiah. Being human, Jeremiah found this state of affairs frustrating at times and occasionally took his frustrations to God, only to be reminded that he needed to be stronger, and that his role was not to change the way people were, but to remind people of the way God is. In that, Jeremiah performed his duties superbly.

We are also, in these deeply sinful and very dark days, called to be the same kind of prophet as Jeremiah and to preach the same kind of message he did. We are not to go to the unbelievers (Jeremiah did not preach to unbelievers) but to the believers who break God’s laws, habitually embrace sin, and teach others to break God’s laws and embrace sin. Don’t expect any of these people to welcome us or appreciate our efforts, any more than the people in Jeremiah’s day appreciated Jeremiah’s efforts. But not to do this would be not to do our duty, and that has dire consequences for us.

When we became followers of Jesus, we signed up for a life of being spat on (metaphorically and literally), all while praying for those doing the spitting. We can back out of this agreement, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There is no salvation outside of God, and living in his Kingdom on Earth has immense perks as well as sobering responsibilities.

Agreeing to be spat on for speaking God’s Truth is one of the latter.

Like Jeremiah, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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