Closer than Our Own Selves – Br. Lain Wilson

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 18:1-7

What do you do when all options in front of you are bad ones?

This is the situation that Jeremiah finds himself in this morning. God has called him to his vocation as a prophet, to proclaim God’s word. In doing so, Jeremiah is mocked and plotted against, even by those close to him. In not proclaiming God’s word, though, he experiences pain, “something like a burning fire” (Jer 20:9).

All this because of who God has called him to be.

Is it any surprise, then, that Jeremiah hurls against God one of the bitterest invectives in Scripture? Different translations have different force—“O Lord, you have enticed me,” “you have seduced me,” “you have deceived me” (Jer 20:7)—but the basic accusation is that God has broken trust, that God has forced the prophet into submission.[1]

This is an accusation you can only hurl against someone you deeply love.

And it is, perhaps, something that we can relate to.

God calls each of us in ways that we may not understand, that we struggle to accept, that we may rail against. Our vocations, our experiences, our very lives may be excruciating mysteries to us. For reasons beyond our understanding, we may, like Jeremiah, end up in places and at times asking ourselves, “how did this come to be,” able only to cry to God, “Is this what you intend for me?”

But even here—even here, at his most frustrated and desperate and bitter, Jeremiah has a word for us: “The Lord is with me” (Jer 20:11). Or, in an alternate translation, “I have desired you.”[2]

“I have desired you.” “You are with me.”

Maybe it’s that Jeremiah has nowhere else to turn. But I don’t think that’s it. It’s not just that God can save Jeremiah, that God has the power to save, but that saving is God’s very nature: “my strength . . . my stronghold, my crag, and my haven,” the psalmist names God, “my rock in whom I put my trust, my shield, the horn of my salvation, and my refuge” (Ps 18:1-2). Jeremiah turn to God not because God is the last, best option, but because God just is salvation.

But it’s not even just that. Jeremiah presumes God’s presence with him. Even when we are most frustrated and desperate and bitter, the truth is that God is just here, the ground under our feet, the air we breathe, the very fabric of our being in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). “Where can I go then from your Spirit,” the psalmist sings elsewhere (Ps 139:6). Where could I possibly be that you are not?

Jeremiah knows this to be true, and so can we. Even when all options are bad, God is here, with us, closer to us than our own selves, with us in our frustration and desperation and bitterness. God is here, with us, the source and object of all our desiring. God is here, with us, mighty to save, and salvation itself.


[1] For a sample of translations: “enticed”: NRSV; “seduced”: NAB; “deceived”: NIV, ESV, KJV, Good News Bible

[2] This alternate translation is proposed as a consequence of a revocalization by W. L. Hollady in Jeremiah 1, in Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Philadelphia, 1986), 548. This alternate reading is “O Yahweh, I have desired you, O terrifying warrior,” compared to the NRSV: “But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior.” Holladay’s commentary: “By this understanding the verse is not so much [Jeremiah’s] affirmation of confidence as his affirmation of a deep desire for Yahweh and for his help” (550, with further explanation for this proposal on pp. 449f and 557f).

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  1. Jean Addleton on March 28, 2024 at 17:41

    Beautiful and relatable

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