Jeremiah 12:1 “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you.  Yet I would speak with you about your justice:  Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all the faithless live at ease?”


Jeremiah is not easy reading.  Of course none of the prophets really is appropriate as a quick pick-me-up in the morning, but Jeremiah is clearly the most depressing, as well he might be.  He is warning of the imminent siege of Jerusalem by Babylon, a truly horrific time for Israel as the people are starved into acts of cannibalism, the city and temple are destroyed, and the inhabitants are marched off to Babylon by their captors.


          But before all of that comes to pass, Jeremiah asks God a question.  It’s not a new question, and as much as it might sound like something only the faithless would ask, we see it being asked in Scripture often by those who are closest to God.  David asks it.  Job asks it.  Jeremiah asks it, and a lot of us regular folks have asked it as well.  “How come you have this reputation for justice, God, when those who are wicked live the life of Riley?  Why are there no ill effects from their wickedness?” 


          Unlike David and Job, Jeremiah does get a direct answer from God, and it is an answer that looks at the big picture.  Before the end of the chapter, God assures Jeremiah that punishment for Israel’s faithlessness is on the way, but God also looks beyond that saying, “But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to his own inheritance and his own country.”  Then come many chapters of horrible messages that Jeremiah is to bring to the people, but in chapter 26 God says, “Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word.  Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way.  Then I will relent and not bring on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done.”


          I think this is one of the broad patterns of Scripture, illustrating the nature of life with God.  Across the history of Israel, time and time again we see the pattern of sin, punishment, repentance, and restoration.  And throughout we see that the nature of God is always hopeful that the punishment part can be avoided if the people will recognize on their own that they’re headed down the wrong road and turn around.  “Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way.”


          The thing people often miss in all this is that what Jeremiah is talking about here is the egregious sin of a nation.  God’s justice is large-scale and not purely individual.  In the siege to come, the righteous will suffer and die or be carried into exile along with the wicked.  God’s call in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, is for the righteousness of nations, not just individuals.  Israel often suffers for the wickedness of its king, as the king takes the nation in an ungodly direction.  And what is that ungodly direction?  Pride and idolatry.


          As harsh as they sound, Jeremiah’s words of warning are important words to hear in America as we head toward an important election.  If there’s one thing that those on the left and the right can agree on (and there may only be one thing!) it is that the moral values of a nation matter.  We have strong disagreements about how to define those values, but people of faith on both sides know in our guts that the well-being of our nation teeters on the edge of a knife.  Will we listen to the voice of our own Jeremiahs?  The witness of Scripture is that if we will, God will relent and not bring disaster upon us.  If we won’t, both the righteous and the wicked must bow our heads and accept God’s justice.


We know you are at work in the world, O God, help us turn from our own ways to follow yours.  Amen.




SpiritWalkers is available in audio as a podcast.  Visit www.annerobertson.com/poddevotions.html to subscribe or to listen online.