17 Apr 2008

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.

God’s Tears

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.

3c6a09506b18c5fd4c31da20f5b4f40dMy Tears

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!

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Seeking Shalom,

Bobby Valentine

33 Responses to “Tears: God’s or Mine (Reflections on Jeremiah from the Pit of Divorce)”

  1. Gallagher Says:

    Bobby,

    You are in our prayers!

  2. johnmarkhicks Says:

    Bobby, thanks for your words. The weeping God is a wonderfully comforting theme as we see God empathetically relating to our own brokenness. God weeps over Israel, he weeps in Jesus and he displays his weakness in the cross. We know that weakness; we know the tears, my friend. We share them together.

    May God grant us peace–Romans 15:14

    John Mark

  3. Anonymous Says:

    O Abba Father,

    Please be with Bobby and his family. Give them comfort as only You can do. Increase their love and dependence for You. Please send them Your peace.

    Amen

  4. gensis5020 Says:

    Bobby,

    I wrote you once. I was also once divorced, and although that was many years ago and I have been peacefully married to a wonderful woman for 17 years, the big D is always with me. Like you, my perspective of the scriptures changed radically. For many months Job was my favorite book. I can understand the pain in the Psalms often. The unseen blessing was how God made use of my failure as a husband to build a stronger connection to my children, to dear friends whose marriage survives but just barely, and to build the foundation that I have with my wife. The pain from times past still lingers, like old joints on a cold morning. Three passages from my Father took on a reassuring meaning for me (all NLT): Paul’s thoughts to the Corinth church, “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us”; Elizabeth’s joy, “How kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace”; and from the Psalmist, “Lord, my heart is not proud;my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp. Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord—now and always.”

    Alan

  5. Polycarp Says:

    What a powerful post, made much more so by your testimony. What a thought that our God who too many consider to be impassable suffered in His own divorce.

    May God comfort you and bless you and up lift your heart.

  6. Gardner Hall Says:

    May God give you strength. Many more tears have been shed as this post has been read, but they are often good for us, for our healing and our perspective of life. May God also give strength to those of us who have to try to help those in this situation, when so often we aren’t sure what to say or do.

  7. Joshua L. Pappas Says:

    My prayers are still with you and yours, brother.
    —JLP

  8. Justin Says:

    Bobby,
    Thank you for being vulnerable. My prayers are with you and yours this morning.

  9. nick gill Says:

    Bobby,

    I love you so much. God has blessed me so much; how could I not love one who shows me his face so well?

    “A Gathered People” just came in today through Inter-Library Loan – from Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, TN.

    Did you know your book was in their library? I’d never heard of this school.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Knowing the pain of his children, God is surely crushed even more when so many turn away from Him in their suffering… like a divorced dad, He longs to wrap them in His arms to comfort them. I suspect you bring healing to our Father himself when you allow Him to wipe away your tears.

    Jeanne H

  11. preacherman Says:

    I want you to know brother that reading your post brought me to tears. I want you to know that you are in my prayers. I pray God’s blessings and comfort over you and the girls.
    Kinney Mabry

  12. Danny Says:

    Bobby, I think God providentially moved you also to write out in words what your heart is feeling.

    There is therapy in doing this which contributes to healing.

    Healing will come- eventually- and the tears will once more be turned into laughter.

    But for now we share the tears with you.

  13. blogprophet Says:

    love you, brother, even though I have never met you, and I appreciate your blogging, writing, etc.

    keep serving Him so the rest of us can benefit.

  14. johndobbs Says:

    Bobby, there is a painful and haunting beauty in this post. It is much more than a blog post and needs to find it’s way into something more permanent…more widely read. I related to it not from a divorce perspective but from the pain being experienced by my parents as they both fight cancer at the same time. Anyway, I love you and I am so thankful you gave us the gift of this article. It is a rose among the thorns and I am moved to give God thanks.

  15. Bryan Says:

    This whole blog is powerful, but these words are especially touching: “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.”

    Blessings,
    Bryan

  16. kingdomseeking Says:

    Bobby,

    I don’t know the hell of divorce. My suffering was the loss of a son and then a younger brother. I have wondered why a child would not start breathing again. I have wondered why a man in his twenties with a wife and 2 children never woke up on that December morning. I have no answer as to why, I only have God who experienced suffering with me in the cross to render the evil powers that destroy creation useless and thereby offer the promise of hope through resurrection.

    Bobby, you said “No answers to my questions. But I have fellowship in my tears.” That is a beautiful statement. There is comfort in knowing that the paths of suffering are not always a lonely path.

    I will pray for you again.

    Rex

  17. rich constant Says:

    Bob I’m going to give you some good advice.
    And Since you are such good friends with John Mark I’ve read a couple of your books, I wouldn’t think that you need any.
    But then we all have blind spots.
    I think I’ve made just about every mistake that there was to make in dealing with divorce, and the children you love.
    My mom always used to tell me Richard the road to hell is littered with good intentions.
    I seriously can still hear those words at 60 years old.
    My kids were abused before they were four either stepgrandfather on my ex-wife side. I learned when alcoholism was by the time that I was 30.
    It’s amazing the pit that we can put ourselves into when we try to run from God.
    You just wind up getting puked back out on the beach many years later.
    Bite your tongue as often as necessary, watch out for learned behavioral characteristics based in remorse and bitterness.
    bob after 35 years i was finally able to talk to my ex-wife.
    Salvation by grace through faith has become very meaningful to me.
    As ET says be good.
    When all else fails follow directions. Don’t compromise too much.
    We all live in glass houses don’t throw rocks.
    Take antidepressants if you need them. A lot of people won’t like that but they work.
    Continue having a prayerfull hart

    If this shows you anything it will show you what the divine nature is and what you’re not and you’ll be all the more thankful and joyous for the love of God shed in our hearts through his son.
    He got a long road to go my brother and it’s up to you how long it’s going to be.
    Peace
    can’t do nothing about yesterday bob. Blessings rich constant

  18. Niki Says:

    Oh my friend! I weep with you.

  19. Clyde Says:

    We’ve never met, but I have appreciated your writings for awhile now. I am sorry for the pain you and your family have experienced. May the LORD (the LORD who Sees and is Seen, the LORD who Will Provide) bless you and your ministry in and through the brokenness.

  20. Matthew Says:

    In a Christian world that pictures the journey as smiling happy faces, a few tears is needed for balance.

  21. Tim Archer Says:

    Bobby,

    No words of wisdom, just a shared sorrow and a prayer.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  22. Anonymous Says:

    Bobby I read your blog often but keep quiet. I will lift your pain the Father.
    Sonny Owens

  23. james Says:

    Bobby,
    Divorce gave me an identity and purpose I never wanted. It also forced my dependence on grace. Can’t say I recommend it but….it does make you grow (kinda like manure with tomatoes).
    Jim Miller

  24. Clarke Says:

    Bobby:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, you’re words are helpful even when you are hurting. I will continue to pray for you.

    -Clarke

  25. Josh Says:

    Maybe marital divorce is a reflection of our culture’s spiritual divorce.

    My wife and I came very close, ourselves. Praise God, he healed & is healing our marriage.

    Take care, Bobby.

  26. Frisky Ridgewood Says:

    Bobby and other bloggers.

    I am Suzy Brown and I have been a Christian since the fourth grade. I have a mission and a passion to help women going through divorce, especially divorce at midlife. I was divorced in 2000 after 33 years of marriage and I was devastated on so many levels I can’t even begin to describe them all. I was in a despair that I was afraid might never end. Then I was angry at myself, at my then-husband and at God. Go to http://www.midlifedivorcerecovery.com for my story and for more divorce recovery resources. Recent articles in wineskins.org and christianchronicle.org tell some of what I’m doing. I am a Christian and I was brought up in the Church of Christ, and I have committed my life to reassuring Christians who are on this divorce journey that God can use them mightily through this. I am also reaching out to non-Christians who are never more open to what God offers than when they are going through divorce. Though it is hard to understand, God has used me for his purposes and for my good in astounding ways. My site, my book, Radical Recovery, my daily R.A.D.I.C.A.L. Thoughts and my divorce recovery boot camps are all designed to help women get better after the agony of divorce. I speak from eight years out and in truth it has taken me that long to fully experience God’s healing in some areas. I am trying to speak to any churches to give them the tools to help those in their congregations or parishes. If the church does not recognize the pain and the problem of divorce, we have abandoned those in need and we have missed an opportunity to share God’s light to those who don’t know him. If I can help anyone on the blog or anyone you know who is experiencing midlife divorce, please have them call me directly or contact me at suzysuccess@kc.rr.com. (On my midlifedivorcerecovery.com site there is an explanation of the name Frisky Ridgewood.) Also, on May 2nd, I will be speaking at Pepperdine about: “How to encourage the divorced without promoting divorce: The Church’s dilemma.” If anyone in church leadership is interested in what we as the body of Christ can do in this much needed ministry, please come or order a CD of the presentation. We, as God’s presence in this world are called to be comforters and to shine God’s light to those who are struggling. Never are people more desperate than when they are going through divorce. If anyone wants to talk to me directly by phone, do not hesitate to call: Suzy Brown 816-941-4911. Bobby, please call or e-mail. I would love to sit down with you at Pepperdine to just talk a bit about these issues.
    For His Glory,
    Suzy

  27. Cheryl Russell Says:

    “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 was a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing your weakness and with it, the love and strength of God. All involved will be in our prayers. May God bless you with endurance, encouragement, and peace.

  28. Keith Brenton Says:

    Bobby, I’m late to the comments because on my first reading I couldn’t find words to add. Then I remembered a post of mine from a couple years back that featured a little more self-disclosure about my life and divorce than I usually put to pixels: A Half Century of Nostalgia.

    My prayer for you is the blessing of a church family that cannot – but will keep trying to – help fill the hole in your life caused by divorce.

    Your brother,

    – Keith

  29. jimjonesdrinkscoffee Says:

    Rachel and Talya are blessed. Their father continues to love, continues to hope, and continues to reach out. Despite all the pain that their father feels, he still loves and cares. I am glad that they are able to see an example of the Father’s love being displayed in your life.

    Bobby, I know you have not claimed perfection. I am glad that you are still able to care and love, just as our Heavenly Father does, in spite of your hurt and pain.

    I am still praying for you and your family.

  30. Jim Martin Says:

    Bobby,
    I read your words and ache for you. You express all of this, as difficult as it must be, so well.

    I will pray for you.

  31. J. L. Watts Says:

    Bobby, I still come back to this post from time to time, and each time I read it, it moves me. I read this passage in Jeremiah many times, just to feel again the sorrow of God in this mess and to remind me that those suffering through this need the care and support of the Church.

  32. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    I come back to it from time to time myself too. Jeremiah has helped me through the dark journey …

  33. Valorie Says:

    Thank you ,Bobby, for showing me, once again, that real men do have deep emotions . And, more than that it is your ability to express openly and succinctly, these”heart shadows” that we all share as thinking, feeling beings. It is not always easy to pin point our pains, nor put them into words. I am truly blessed that the Lord has placed you in my life’s path. I long ago had heard this….. that our Lord feels all of our pains, hurts and disappointments. And, He doesn”t only wait to correct our failures. A friend gave me a wonderful visual on the aspect of tears….. that God collects every tear we ever shed, puts them in a bottle and they rest at His feet. It has given me great comfort over the years. Once more I must tell you, how appreciated you are and loved. Thanks for being true to yourself and God!!

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