Healthy Leaders


Jeremiah: Seeing and Saying the Hard Truths

Chris WheelerChris Wheeler

I’ve recently been digging into the book of Jeremiah.

I’ve read Jeremiah before, but what drew me to it this time was the desire to soak in God’s judgment, to understand more clearly the scope and reality of His wrath. This is part of God’s Person that I’ve always known to be true but have had difficulty accepting. I would rather turn away from His judgment and focus on His love ‒ which should be a perennial resting place for all of us. But after spending the better part of three months in deep with the “weeping prophet,” I think God’s wrath is something to rest in as well.

Along the way, I also received something of a surprising side quest in my study ‒ what it means to be a messenger of wrath.

As a writer and poet, I read a lot about art informed and transformed by faith. In my exploration of this topic, I’ve noticed a consistent idea in both Christian and non-Christian circles: that of the artist as a prophetic voice. For eons, poets, musicians, novelists, and other artistic types have been looking closely at their societies and telling them what they see (to be clear, we’re talking about forth-telling the truth rather than foretelling the future). And artists aren’t the only ones who do this. Leaders also need this ability to see well, which is as much an art as it is a skill. 

Because both artists and leaders focus on seeing what lies beneath the surface of a thing and beyond what is readily apparent, the truths they tell are often uncomfortable for those listening. 

Jeremiah himself was in a position to be brutally honest. Let’s take a look at some of the truths God gave him before we dive into exactly how he shared those truths.

The Message of Jeremiah

First, God’s wrath is always righteous.

“Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God; the fear of Me is not in you,” declares the LORD God of hosts. (Jeremiah 2:19)

This might be an obvious statement, but it bears repeating: God is fully justified when He judges, and we have no recourse but acceptance of it.

One of the primary difficulties I face when I try to accept the wrath of God is my own confusion. I don’t have the mind of God, nor do I know the reasons or results of the judgment. Because of this, any cognitive dissonance I’m experiencing at the time might make it seem like God is doling out unjust judgment. 

We can never overstate the importance of clinging to God’s righteousness. He does not act on capricious whims or petty vendettas. He deliberately chooses what is right, because He is holy and true. If I begin to believe that whatever is happening is an unjust act on God’s part, I must rewind and find a different solution ‒ because God cannot be unrighteous.

If we ever begin to downplay the weight of our rebellious actions, let us read Jeremiah and remember how utterly wrong it is to turn from our loving Father.

Second, God does not delight in hurting people.

Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, “Return, faithless Israel,” declares the Lord. “I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful,” declares the Lord; “I will not be angry forever.” (Jeremiah 3:12)

God spends swaths of Jeremiah repeating His plea to His people: turn back from your sins and come to Me. The agony of Jeremiah is clear and unequivocal: the pain God’s people are experiencing is not something that pleases God. He is not vindictive or petty in the least, as if we could injure Him in some way that would hurt His pride.

Jeremiah states that this is not the way it was supposed to be. This is the right and only response to sin, but this was not what God wanted for us. We should be driven to our knees by the truth that God has opened up another way. Such is the great love of our Lord, that He would rather take on sin and death Himself than be separated from us forever.

Which leads us to the third truth, that God’s wrath is a natural consequence of our rebellion against him.

A voice on the bare heights is heard, the weeping and pleading of Israel’s sons because they have perverted their way; they have forgotten the Lord their God … “Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us. For we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.” (Jeremiah 3:21, 25)

When I discipline my children in some way for their actions, I am quick to point out that the reason I do so is to affirm for them that actions have consequences. Right now those consequences hurt in small ways, but it won’t always be that way.

When we turn away from Living Water, we will thirst. When we turn from the Bread of Life, we will hunger. When we pervert our way and forget the Lord our God, we will experience shame, dishonor, and ultimately, judgment. This is the natural state of the universe, which stems from God Himself. To turn from Him is to turn from true life toward death.

The pain we experience is here for a greater purpose – to draw us to the goodness and glory of our Father.

And finally, God’s wrath is always framed by and injected with mercy.

“I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be My people and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.” (Jeremiah 24:6-7)

Our original rebellion shook the foundations of the universe, as an act of saying “no” to a God who has only ever wanted our good. It is an incredible mercy that He has given any of us living in the shadow of that rebellion a new, whole heart at all, so that we have the ability to say “yes” to Him.

If it were up to us to turn back to Him, we would be utterly lost. But throughout Jeremiah, God is reaching out, wrestling with, drawing Israel in, pleading with her. It is only by His mercy that we can even understand our brokenness, let alone accept Him in faith.

Speaking of Judgment

Jeremiah’s message flies full in the face of our natural inclinations and desires. It calls out sin for what it is in light of Who God is. But it was not a fun, upbeat sort of message designed to give you your best life now. If we are committed to sharing the truth of God as leaders, artists, or disciples of Christ, we’re going to be carrying some heavy truths to our people.

So how did Jeremiah do this?

First, he was obedient.

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’ for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:7-8)

The deeper I dig into what could possibly qualify someone to be an emissary of God’s truth, the simpler it becomes. God’s messengers are those who are obedient. God says to go there, and they go. God says to say this, and they say it. God says to sit still, and they wait. This isn’t a revelation or a hot take, friends. God just wants obedient people to communicate His truth.

If you’ve been called to do this in your leadership, your art, your words, your actions, your life ‒ obey. Stop philosophizing about how to do it and just do it.

Second, Jeremiah accurately communicated the message.

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it.” (Jeremiah 1:11-12)

It’s stunning that one of Jeremiah’s first acts as a prophet is simply to tell God what He sees. He does so, and God uses it as a window into His truth. Seeing is often used in Scripture as a metaphor for active faith; while the people of Israel “have eyes but do not see,” Jeremiah “sees well.”

And from here on, Jeremiah is communicating precisely what God says.

Think about what this means. Jeremiah resolved to share every word ‒ the good, the bad, and the ugly. And God had a lot of very grievous things to say to Judah through Jeremiah, who is not called the “weeping prophet” for nothing.

The truths God gives us will not always be pleasant or happy. To put it another way, the stories we tell won’t always be bestsellers. Regardless, we must remain faithful to the truth God has laid on our hearts, not the partial truth that gets us likes and shares. It will not always be pretty, but obedience matters more than popularity and reach.

And consider starting with what’s right in front of you. What do you see? God can use it, and He can use you.

Finally, Jeremiah accepted the consequences of speaking the truth.

“But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:17-19)

Jeremiah wasn’t just saying God’s words. He was identifying with them to the point that he embodied them. He was considered a physical threat to Judah, and the people, false prophets, and leaders of Judah reacted accordingly to him.

Jeremiah went to his family, whom he deeply loved, to warn them about impending disaster. They didn’t listen, and in fact they mocked him and beat him. But he kept coming back, compelled by God and love for his people to tell them the truth, again and again ‒until he and his people were finally judged.

They never accepted the truth, and yet Jeremiah preached it to them anyway.

How often do we look to how people respond to what we say and do and either give up or change our message because of their responses? How often do we turn away from saying exactly what the people we love need to hear the most?

None of us are Old Testament prophets. We’re New Testament believers, though, and God has called us all to be obedient messengers to those around us. What a mercy! He doesn’t need us to accomplish His will, but He wants us to be involved. If we don’t, I’m pretty sure the rocks will have something to say about it. But why would we forego the privilege of loving God and others through speaking God’s truth?

See and hear. Believe and obey. Then speak, and speak with boldness and hope. For even God’s judgment is righteous, and shot through with new mercies.

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