Tears: God’s or Mine (Reflections on Jeremiah from the Pit of Divorce)Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Jeremiah, Kingdom, Ministry, Preaching, Psalms, Spiritual Disciplines, Suffering
Here are some late night thoughts … so take them for what they are. My friend John Mark Hicks was providentially moved to post a series on What Divorced People Feel and How to Minister to Divorced People. I know God had a hand in that. I don’t think John Mark set out to write for me … but perhaps James A. Harding would say that he was lead to do so. Danny Dodd also has a very good reflection on this scourge.
You see I am divorced. Not by choice. But I am divorced. I never dreamed nor imagined I would be … but I am. I have no desire to humiliate my (ex)wife, my girls, my family, my congregation, my God … or myself. I have no desire to make those I have loved (and still do) for so many years look bad. I do not want to say it was “her” fault because the truth is more complicated than that. What I do know is that I somehow – I do not know how – participated in destroying that which was so fundamentally holy, sacred, and important to even me (much less God!). I did not want to and did not intend to and did not mean to. I have no explanation as to why. I can say with Paul “I have the desire to do what is good … but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Rom 7.18-19). I have come close to loathing myself for my failures … that is why I have said earlier that the song “One Last Breath” by Creed comes close to evoking the feelings of pain but even it falls short. I have attached the video to the end of the blog.
I have some new insight (to me) into Scripture … not what it actually says but through a melding of its words with my own circumstance things now stand out in bold relief. I have known about the texts of Jeremiah 8-9 for a long time. I even did a presentation on them a few years ago at the Lake Geneva Family Encampment but now I read them with a vested interest.
It is not without providential irony that I was asked to teach Jeremiah last year for class called “Coffee with Bobby” with a group every Tuesday morning. Jeremiah is full of pain. He was a reluctant prophet! He reports that Yahweh himself went through the bitter pain of divorce (3.6-8).
“During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, ‘Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of her unfaithfulness.”
Those influenced by neo-Platonic views of God rarely think of the suffering of God in the Hebrew Bible but divine pathos is there in bold relief. The depth of God’s own pain is witnessed in 3.2 as Yahweh uses the strongest, graphic, and most shocking word in the Hebrew Bible, “sagal.” There is a long standing rule among the rabbis, “do not translate!” So most English Bible’s use the word “adultery” (NRSV) or “ravished” (NIV) but these are quite tame. It is an expletive. That is God’s pain! The story of Jeremiah seems to be written with tears rather than ink!
The scroll of Jeremiah from 8.18-9.22 zeroes in on an image of God that has meant a great deal to me lately. God is King indeed … but he is a crying King! Yahweh is declared to be the speaker of these incredibly moving words (9.3, 6, 17, 22). The “death” of a relationship was intensely painful for Yahweh. The words of Yahweh border on radical,
“O my comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me” (8.18)
God’s heart is shattered …
“Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn and horror grips me” (8.21).
The heart of Yahweh is so heavy that he bursts out in tears
“Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!” (9.1)
Later Yahweh “confesses” that he does not have enough tears for the occasion so he calls for the professional mourners to come in to help supply the tears for the occasion … he invites them to shed tears not only for Israel but for him …
“Consider now! Call the wailing women to come; send for the most skillful of them. Let them come quickly and wail over US till OUR eyes overflow with tears and water streams from OUR eyelids …” (9.17-18)
J. J. M. Roberts has shown that pagan deities were also known to shed tears for their people (see “The Motif of the Weeping God in Jeremiah and Its Background in the Lament Tradition of the Ancient Near East” from 1992). What the idols could never do, Yahweh does in reality. His marriage has ended in a heartbreaking divorce … so heartbreaking that God had hired the mourners to come in to make up the deficit in tears. This is pain. So much pain, in fact, one could almost describe Jer 8-9 as clinical depression!! God has an endless river of tears … God wishes (it seems to me) to escape the pain but “cannot.” His heart will not let him. For anyone who has gone through divorce this is all too true.
Though God has not chosen to reveal to me why hell has invaded my life he has shown me his own broken heart. The God of the cross is first the God of the broken heart. The God of judgment is first the God who weeps violently for his bride. This is an image of God I assuredly did not grow up with.
No answers to my questions. But I have fellowship in my tears. It is in the Bible,
“My tears have been my food day and night …” (Ps 42.3)
“Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?” (Ps 56.8)
“You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowl full” (Ps 80.5)
“For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears” (Ps 102.9)
God cries because we have left him for other gods. We cry because we have willingly or unwillingly participated in the destruction of his creative intent. We cry a lamentation for what is wrong in this world. As we cry we find, ironically, intimate fellowship with the Creator himself. My tears are but a poor imitation of his own.It is here that we will one day find shalom and healing. It is here that we hope to find the new creation … which is simply that place where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. A place where there will be no tears.Our Abba will wipe away our tears (Rev 21.4) because he has already shed a few of his own. God knows what a broken heart feels like … to someone like me this is … good news!