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Enough to Make a Prophet Cuss

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Jeremiah 17:5-10) transports me back 50 years ago to the Vietnam of May, 1961, where Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was visiting South Vietnamese President Diem, hailing him as the Winston Churchill of Asia. Later that same month, President Kennedy would authorize 400 Green Beret troops to go to Vietnam to teach counter-insurgency techniques to South Vietnamese military and Montegnard civilian fighters. The rest, as they say, is history, and as Jonathan Schell pointed out in his book The Unconquerable World, part of the lesson of that history is how violence has become dysfunctional as a political instrument. In other words, war ain’t what it used to be. But the Hebrew prophets might quarrel with this statement; they might argue that violence never functioned well as the means to a good end. For one thing, relying on human weapons to solve problems erodes trust in God, and for another, it literally erodes the earth (the “conflict” in Vietnam certainly illustrated the latter, with its widespread use of chemical defoliants). The Roman historian Tacitus understood this consequence well, when he wrote of Rome’s military expansionism: They made a wasteland and called it peace.

The prophet Jeremiah foreshadowed the wisdom of Jonathan Schell and Tacitus when he wrote of a parched land filled with a passel of cussed people blown like tumbleweed. He illustrated the flip side as well, though: right down the road from the cursed wasteland was a blessed bottom land filled with folks drinking deep from the watering hole of a sacred stream. What did the blessed folks to do deserve the fertility of flowing waters? When confronted by the heat of hostile forces they maintained a resilient trust in God to take care of them. They refused the call to arms. What did the dry as dust folks do to deserve their curse? When confronted by hostile forces, they abandoned faith in God and hedged their bets by placing trust in human strength, taking up arms and building up armies to do what they feared the Lord would not do for them. Jeremiah said that this misplaced trust in human power was a sign of a heart turned away from the Lord. These might makes right folks would find themselves no better than what the NIV calls a bush in the wastelands (no political jab intended). They would be consigned to dead deserts, singing along with Woody Guthrie, so long, it’s been good to know ya; this dusty old dust is gettin’ my home.

The prophet’s use of environmental symbolism for the blessing and cursing of God’s people has an even sharper edge today. The idea that the arrogance of human power can create deserts has become a literal as well as symbolic truth. Desertification is a current catastrophe that we don’t hear much about, but it is taking away fertile land the size of Nebraska each year, due to over-development, deforestation, war, and other mindless human attempts to literally conquer the world we live in. It is happening in Africa, in Asia, and right here at home in the southwest United States. Let us maintain a vigilant trust in God and refuse complicity in this crazy conquest, lest we come to experience more of Woody G’s prophetic verses: The churches was jammed, the churches was packed, and that dusty old storm blew so black, so the Preacher could not read a word of the Text, and he folded his specs, and he took up collection, so long, it’s been good to know ya. Until that dread day, I’ll keep walkin’ my ribbon of highway in search of those sacred watering holes of genuine grace and peace.

How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.



  • May 12, 2011 at 7:28 am

    Thanks Stan for giving a fresh perspective to contemplate thru the day. The catastrophe of settling differences thru power on any level has such longterm consequences.

    Comment by Bro Dave

  • May 12, 2011 at 7:34 am

    You’re right, Dave. Too bad that catastrophic lesson has to be learned over and over again.

    Comment by Stan

  • May 12, 2011 at 9:39 am

    War has always confused me when I look at it thru spiritual eyes. The Bible says that “The power of the Holy Spirit came upon Saul to give him strength to go to war.” Why would God send thwe HS to give strength to a man that would use the power to kill? As we know, when the Jews were moving into their promised land, God gave marching orders to wipe all who lived there, kidsd, pregnant women, animals and all. The God that I have a relationship with showers me with Grace and Mercy EVERYDAY. It’s hard to imagine the same God that says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his son,” is the same God that gave strength to men in war for the purpose of wipin gout their enemy. But on the other hand, God wiped out the whole earth because he was so sick of the sin that was present. All I can come up with that gives me comfort is knowing that God is in charge and that he is the only one that is the only one that can dish out true justice. “There is a time for peace, and a time for war.” One day there will not be any wars, that time can’t be too soon for me.

    Comment by Kenny

  • May 12, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Sorry for all the mis-spelled words! I am horrible without spell check!

    Comment by Kenny

  • May 12, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Kenny, you raise important question, things that people of faith have struggled with through the ages. One way I’ve come to terms with some of the biblical material is to learn that the Bible is not a “flat” book, but is an inspired dialogue among people of faith who see a portion of truth through their various lenses. There are those who see God as a violent God of war, and others who see God as gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. What’s critical to me is seeing which strains of this holy conversation Jesus picked up on when establishing his identity as Son of God and savior. He definitely gravitated toward the prophetic material that called for a more expansive love of neighbor, and less toward the combative material.

    Comment by Stan

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