The Burden of Truth

My pastor preached yesterday on the incredibly dark passage that is Jeremiah 20; and I am thankful that passage is in the Bible for our help.

It is not without reason Jeremiah is known to us as the weeping prophet. The man lived in a time where the people were living in open rebellion against God. In that context, it was Jeremiah who was given the unrewarding task of speaking the truth to a people opposed to the truth. Page after page is filled with the sorrowful message: Judgment, wrath, destruction is coming. But you can still turn. God is still a merciful God.

The people did then what people still do today: reject the truth.  Jeremiah’s warnings were left unheeded and ignored, and in chapter 20 their response surpassed simple disregard. They attacked Jeremiah physically. The prophet of the Lord was first beaten and secondly put in stocks outside the Benjamin Gate where, as my Pastor noted, Jeremiah’s family would pass through and see him, only compounding his personal shame.

Here we find Jeremiah at rock bottom, and it is very dark down at the bottom. We see the humanity of the prophet as he lights the candle to his own internal wrestlings. His own personal weaknesses are on full display for the rest of us to see:

“Cursed be the day I was born!
    May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
15 Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
    who made him very glad, saying,
    ‘A child is born to you—a son!’
16 May that man be like the towns
    the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
    a battle cry at noon.
17 For he did not kill me in the womb,
    with my mother as my grave,
    her womb enlarged forever.
18 Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame?”

I am so glad the Holy Spirit does not censor Jeremiah’s agony at this point. We do not hear Jeremiah regurgitate Jeremiah 29:11, or bring to remembrance, “Before I formed you in my mother’s womb, I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart.” Instead, God allows Jeremiah to linger a bit in this place of morbid honesty. Like He did with David, God again welcomes the candid words from a servant’s broken heart. It as real as it is raw.

“I wish I had never been born.”

I think Jeremiah’s sorrow is something all truth-speakers understand to some degree. Truth is a burden to bear. It has a hard side. It is indeed difficult to be a small light in a world that is so dark, and Jeremiah understood this more than just about everyone. He found it hard to be incessantly a herald of woe. But it would not nearly be so hard to speak of the evil to come if the message was heeded and the evil avoided. The hard part of being a speaker of truth is the continual rejection of a message so significant. Jeremiah knew what would come to pass because of the rejection of his message, and it broke his heart that it was so.

And as hard as that was, Jeremiah now has to face verbal, physical abuse for being a messenger of a hard message that no one wants hear. This is why we see the emotional overflow that is the end of chapter 20.

Why not shut up then? If the message is so difficult, and the fruit of the message is only making matters worse, why not stop speaking the message? I think Jeremiah has tried, just as many of us may have tried in the past.

Verse 9 explains why he cannot.

“Whenever I speak, I cry out
    proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
    insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,’
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.”

Jeremiah does not get any pleasure out of speaking the message of the coming wrath. He is not some provocateur who is only stirring the pot to elicit a reaction. It legitimately pains him to see his severe warnings disregarded and his name insulted and reproached in the process.

But, if he stops speaking. If he stops declaring the words God has placed in his mouth. If he seals his lips, the truth will burn like a fire within. A fire in his bones. And he is weary from holding in its ravenous flames; indeed, he cannot keep it in.

Such is the power of truth.

As people of truth similarly given a message of truth to a world directly opposed to truth, we have a hard road ahead of us. It is my prayer for us faithful to the message that the Words of God would so dwell and burn in us, that no matter what the cost, and no matter what the reaction—we will, like Jeremiah, be unable to stay silent.    


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