I’ve been having a tough time rejoicing the last few days. For weeks now, fear and loathing (along with a fair bit of hate and bigotry) have been filling up the broadcast airwaves–mostly related to the proposed Islamic community center in New York City. Add to that the crazy pastor in Florida making plans to burn copies of the Qur’an.
There’s just been a whole lot of finger-pointing and screaming about “them,” the others, the different people, the foreigners, the non- or un-Americans. “They” apparently are on the side of evil and all the “we” folks must, then, be on God’s side.
Of course, it’s no coincidence that all this comes just before the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. But I think even more so because there’s a national election in a couple months.
Into all that I read words from Jeremiah 4, from a very different time and place: “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.”
The truly amazing thing is that God didn’t give up on those people so long ago. They would have to experience a cleansing fire, so to speak, a time in exile. It would be a time when they would no longer know how to sing the songs of Zion in a strange and foreign land. Yet God would rescue them–again. Just as God had done for God’s people in Egypt, and as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. All the way back to Abraham and Sarah. Once more God would find these children of Abraham, like lost sheep or coins that have slipped behind sofa cushions.
“For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.”
What marvelous words those are: “I have spoken, I have purposed.” They remind me a lot of prophetic words from Isaiah:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” –Isaiah 55:10-11 NRSV
We human beings have such an amazing ability to do stupid stuff. We demonize strangers. We cause pain and heartache. We burn books (thinking, I suppose, that ideas will be consumed, as well). We go to war. We think we’re at the center of the universe, the people God cares about most. We consistently set to one side all the truly wonderful things we could rejoice about, just so we can focus on what makes others different from u. How “we” are better than, holier than, more loved than “them.”
Three thousand people died on that awful Tuesday morning nine years ago. Tens of thousands more have been killed since, many in God’s name. Countless numbers of others have been wounded physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. It’s enough to make any of us give up hope. Yet I keep coming back to those words: “I have spoken, I have purposed.”
That is a reason to rejoice.