|There’s an interesting point of translation in Jeremiah 3:1.|
The entire chapter outlines God’s accusation against Judah and Israel. Both have turned from the Lord to other lovers. At times, many others! That is the driving image described in the chapter. God’s people have played the harlot. Where have you not done these things, God asks.
Some of us are uncomfortable with such imagery. But it expresses the intimacy God desires with humanity. If we’re being honest, that kind of makes us uncomfortable, too. Admittedly, the first time I heard someone suggest God “makes love to our hearts,” I cringed. That wasn’t because it doesn’t match the biblical sense of intimacy. No, I had warped notions of what it means. An unfaithful spouse perfectly characterizes the rebellion of God’s people. It stands to reason, then, that loving, intimate relations can illustrate what God wants with us.
This is all helpful to consider the translation point before us today.
How much did Israel’s and Judah’s unfaithfulness impact God? When you read words like polluted, desolate and wickedness you start to realize how much. So, when an unfaithful spouse wants to return, what is the proper response? More to the point, when God’s unfaithful people want to return, what is God’s response?
In this case, it might surprise you. I have read this passage with my usual Bible translations: NRSV and NKJV. Both seem to offer a slight difference in translation. Jeremiah 3:1 begins God’s indictment against the people. According to the NKJV, the ending of the verse declares, “‘But you have played the harlot with many lovers; yet return to Me,’ says the Lord.” The NRSV says it this way, “‘You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?’ says the Lord.”
Was it just me or does one translation read like an invitation while the other an accusation?
On this side of the Jesus experience, we’re quick to acknowledge it as an invitation. After all, God wants to redeem us. We’re just a bit stubborn and God knows that. I remember using the old Motel 6 tagline in a sermon once. Like the motel, God always leaves the light on for us. Praise God.
At the same time, consider the problem God has with Judah and Israel. They did come back, supposedly. That is, they maintained their worship and special offerings. They considered themselves people of God. And yet they have done, as God says, all the evil they could.
It seems as if Jeremiah 3:1 is God challenging the people. We needn’t worry whether God offers us an invitation or not. You can always hear Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” But the Lord’s challenge to them extends to us as well. Have we returned to God? Or are we more like a cheating spouse? Do we profess the blessings of God while seeking the pleasures of the world?
God knows the difference when do and don’t. And true discipleship teaches us to know the difference.
|I can’ help but “Amen!” that one line from the worship song “What a Beautiful Name.” It simplifies all I know about God’s mercy: My sin was great. Your love was greater.|
God’s love will always be greater. As Wesleyan Christians, we speak a lot about the grace of God. It shapes how we understand God’s redemptive work. So, you’d be hard-pressed to not hear us talk about it. Some take that to mean we’re soft on sin. Not at all.
The grace of God doesn’t excuse sin. It forgives it. It redeems it. Now, that’s not our get-out-of-jail-free card. Rather, it’s a reminder of how good God is to us. The apostle Paul asked, “How can we who died to sin go on living in it” (Romans 6:2)? Sin, he continues, has no dominion over the Christian heart because of God’s grace (Romans 6:14).
For that reason, in our reflection, it’s good to begin with what we know and are learning about God. We’re not ignoring who we are or what we’ve done. There’s no benefit to pretending. At the same time, it’s a bit self-centered if you only and mainly talk about how much of a sinner you are. Again, God’s love and grace are greater! Refocusing on God redirects our attention more to the goodness of God.
Psalm 36 offers us an illustration of this perspective. The psalm opens with a word about the wicked. Transgression runs deep in their hearts. In their eyes, they are well. Their mouths carry “mischief and deceit.” And while they lie on their beds, they plot their schemes. Notice the depth of their iniquity. It’s as deep as their heart and even gets as low as their bed.
Sounds bad, right? Well, let’s let the psalmist now broaden our perspective.
Whereas deceit runs deep in the heart, God’s steadfast love extends to the heavens. God’s faithfulness reaches the clouds. The Lord’s righteousness has the heights of the mountains. God’s judgments complete the fullness of the image by being like the great deep.
Do you see the comparison? Truly, our sin is great. It feels like it runs deep. But God’s love is greater. Amen!
We can also sense the psalmist’s affirmation of our premise to focus more on God’s love and grace first. He says, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” Do we need to reflect upon who we are and what we do? Of course. That’s a wise and mature way to grow in grace understanding. At the same time, let your reflection begin with God’s light, how good God is.
You won’t notice your sin less. Quite the opposite. You’ll appreciate more what God has done for us. You’ll question why and how sin grabbed you. And the depth of God’s steadfast love will be light to your soul.