Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Where's God - Part 1

Where’s God when your marriage falls apart?
Where’s God in the cancer riddled body lying in the Palliative Care Unit? 
Where’s God in the crumpled metal frame lying by the side of the road while the wail of an ambulance fades into the distance?
Where’s God when life is tough?

You may have asked these, or similar questions.  Right now you might be shaking your fist and screaming at God, demanding an answer to a tough question.

We all face circumstances in life that don’t make sense.  And we wonder, “Where’s God?”

Sometimes we don’t get answers, but sometimes God leaves us clues.

Today and next week I want to share insights from the book of Jeremiah.  I hope by the end of these two posts we’ll have a little more clarity to the anguished question, “Where’s God?”

Jeremiah is a prophet, called by God to preach a message of repentance to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  Jeremiah’s message isn’t popular, but he remains faithful to God, persisting in warning the rebellious nations, Israel and Judah, of the dire consequences they’ll face if they don’t stop worshiping other Gods.

Like most of us, Israel and Judah are stubborn.  They fail to heed Jeremiah’s warning.  Jerusalem is overthrown.  Eventually the people of both nations are taken into exile.  Things look pretty bleak to the prisoners of war, as their victors herd them towards a life of exile in Babylon.

But God sends this message to Jeremiah…

“After King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon exiled Jehoiachin son of Johoiakim, king of Judah to Babylon along with the officials of Judah and all the craftsmen and artisans, the Lord gave me this vision.  I saw two baskets of figs placed in front of the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem.  One basket was filled with fresh, ripe figs, while the other was filled with bad figs that were too rotten to eat. 

Then the Lord said to me, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’

I replied, ‘Figs, some very good and some very bad, too rotten to eat.’

Then the Lord gave me this message: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says:  The good figs represent the exiles I sent from Judah to the land of the Babylonians.  I will watch over and care for them, and I will bring them back here again.  I will give them hearts that recognize me as the Lord.  They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly.’

‘But the bad figs,’ the Lord said, ‘represent King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, all the people left in Jerusalem, and those who live in Egypt.  I will treat them like bad figs, too rotten to eat.  I will make them an object of horror and a symbol of evil to every nation on earth.  They will be disgraced and mocked, taunted and cursed, wherever I scatter them.  And I will send war, famine, and disease until they have vanished from the land of Israel, which I gave to them and their ancestors.’  Jeremiah 24:1-10 (NLT)

Jeremiah receives the “inside scoop” from God about the exiles.  Here’s what I believe God is telling Jeremiah…

There are good people living in Judah.  People who have potential to become a great and godly nation once more.  But they’re mixed up with evil and corrupt people.

By sending them into exile God separates these good people from the evil, corrupt ones.  He saves His people from the war and famine that He knows will devastate the land. 

By sending them into exile God preserves their lives. 

Here’s the problem for the exiles…

In the midst of the chaos; homes lost and lives changed overnight, the exiles can’t see or understand God’s greater purpose.  Like us in the midst of turmoil, I imagine they wonder…”Where’s God?  Why has He deserted us?”

Even though they don’t know it and can’t see or understand it at the time, God is still with the exiles.  He continues to protect and watch over them.

Quite often our troubles overwhelm us.  We give in to fear. 

The thing is when we’re in the midst of our troubles, paralyzed by fear and uncertainty, we don’t know the whole picture.  We don’t know what God’s doing behind the scenes.  We don’t have Jeremiah’s “inside scoop”.  

This segment of Jeremiah brings hope for the exiles and it brings hope for us, too.  Even when we don’t see it, God is at work and has a plan for us.

There’s more good news for both the exiles and us a few chapters later in Jeremiah.  Next week we’ll look at some other promises God makes about taking care of his people. 

To read ahead, take a look at Jeremiah chapter 29.  That’s where we’ll be next week.

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