Jer. 14:8-9 – Here again we see the kind of despairing doubt that comes when God seems either unaware of our plight (the traveler who stops only for the night) or impotent, unable to do anything (a man who is stunned, a warrior who cannot give victory). How often I perceive the world in this way! And if God is unwilling or unable to intervene in my dire circumstances, is He really God? Surely many of the Judeans, particularly the common folk who suffered the most under this calamity, wondered as much. Jeremiah, for his part, gives compelling arguments before and after this passage concerning the broken covenant and God’s righteous indignation. In 13:14 God exclaims that no pity, compassion, or mercy will stop Him from destroying the people he brought intimately close to himself for fame and praise and splendor. I get the impression, though it is not written in this text, that God must actively and painfully restrain His pity, compassion, and mercy in this instance in order to work the justice necessary.
I do believe that God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and always acts in love and for the good of His people. It is often hard, though, to ascertain those concepts, especially in difficult times. For Jeremiah’s contemporaries, what they had always believed to be the inviolable city of Zion was suddenly being overrun, subjugated, exiled, and destroyed. The prophecies of Isaiah son of Amoz in which Jerusalem would always stand, would never fall, seemed to be proving false. In their minds, could Isaiah really be a prophet if he got wrong such a central theme? The people of the time would not be faulted for wondering if God even exists at all, considering the state of what they had been told was God’s city, God’s nation, God’s people.
So in circumstances such as these, the perspective of the people in the streets, and perhaps even some of the educated priests, could easily have been that God is either unaware of our plight (not omniscient), powerless to do anything about it (not omnipotent), unavailable (not omnipresent), maliciously against them (not good), or doesn’t exist at all. Jeremiah went to great lengths and spent much of his writing on explaining just how wrong that viewpoint is, but his message along those lines is exactly what got him persecuted and imprisoned.
And my point is that things can look that way to us sometimes as well. In fact, perhaps we have more in common with the people of Jeremiah’s time than with the Apostles in some ways. The Apostles walked with Christ, the living God incarnate, they saw Him perform miracles, and they saw Him resurrected after being tortured and crucified. Even in hard times, His presence was quite near and very real to them. We, on the other hand, can sometimes go through long periods of darkness with very little real, personal connection with God. Bad things happen all around us, and bad people prosper while the good suffer and die. We continue to live under the curse of Adam even though Christ has promised that the Kingdom of Heaven has arrived. Theologically, intellectually, I can certainly explain all of that using good systematic theology techniques and a few key quotes from Biblical theology. But in my heart, at times it is hard for that to sink in.
Not that I let that slow me – my faith perseveres in spite of struggles. Consider the stories of Mother Theresa, how she labored much of her life with no intimate feeling of the presence of God. Still, she pressed on in light of the truth. That is why we call it faith!
Doubt, then, might be quite normal for us, just as it would have been for the people of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time, more so than would have been common in the time of the Apostles. I don’t want to present doubt as something to strive for, but I also don’t want to pretend like it’s unnatural for a Christian to have doubts. On the contrary, I see doubt as quite natural given our circumstances. But rather than following that doubt into apostasy, I prefer to use doubt as a motivator to search all the more for a real connection with God. He is not afraid of our doubt, nor our searching: no, in truth, I think He desires that from us as one of the greatest uses of our time and energies!