I have an affinity for the Prophet Jeremiah. I think it’s because, when push came to shove, he never backed-down to the powerful forces aligned against him, even when it seemed those forces were sure to have their way. Instead, he was faithful in calling kings and people back to the ways of Yahweh. Speaking truth to power became the way he served GOD, not as an occasional verbal foray in response to a specific set of circumstances, but as a consistent irritant seeking to recapture the minds and hearts of a people saved and set-aside for a holy purpose. The deep sadness and suffering he experienced because of the continual resistance of his audience, ultimately morphing into hatred of him (and hatred of GOD, see Mark 13:13), is far removed from the feel-good, prosperity-based teachings so prevalent in recent years.
Jeremiah was broken-hearted as he watched his people descend farther and farther down the dark road of false worship and apostasy (outright, intentional rejection of GOD and His standards for living). His ministry required him to withstand the blows of deeply felt animosity that were really aimed at GOD and His attempts to correct and redirect His misguided, stubborn people. Jeremiah wasn’t called the “Weeping Prophet” for no reason.
It is fairly common for Christian preachers and teachers to talk about the need for all of us to have people in our lives who can “speak truth” to us, to say those things that are hard for us to hear but which are necessary to our well-being. This truth-speaking is a manifestation of agapé (unselfish love that benefits others) (see Prov. 12:1; Heb. 12:8-9, 11; Rev. 3:19).
There are times when we need someone, like the child in Hans Christian Anderson’s story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, to tell us that we have no clothes on (at least figuratively). In Anderson’s story, it took a child to speak a truth that the adults were too afraid to speak for fear of the emperor’s reaction. To these adults, it was more important to protect themselves from the emperor’s wrath than to let him know he was walking around naked and vulnerable. This is certainly a risk because some people really can’t handle the truth (to borrow from Col. Jessup in A Few Good Men). And the more powerful the truth is, the more severe the potential repercussions. When we don’t have people in our lives who will tell us hard truths or when we reject what they offer us because we don’t like what they say, we just prove that we prefer the illusions of our egos and our insecurities.
Leaders, like all people, need to be open to hearing and receiving the hard truths about themselves, for the benefit of those they lead. Leaders who resist truth about themselves (like Judah’s leaders during Jeremiah’s time) not only deceive themselves by preferring myths and illusions, they also wrongly influence the thinking of those under their stewardship. When defenses against the truth are activated in order to ignore the truth, even more forces supportive of the preferred ‘realities’ are unleashed. The truth may be undermined so that what is true is viewed as being untrue, or in the extreme, power is used to prevent the truth from being spoken altogether.
In Jeremiah’s time, king Jehoiakim gave his ear to what Scripture calls false prophets, that is, religious leaders who reassured him, encouraged him, and gave him ‘air cover’ for his spiritual disobedience. The Bible says of these men “They encourage those who are doing evil so that no one turns away from their sins” (Jeremiah 23:14, NLT). Their constant feel-good assurances helped to make the voice of Jeremiah intolerable to Jehoiakim. Jeremiah was even thrown into a well once because his prophecies of GOD’s coming punishment and calls to repent were too offensive to hear (Jeremiah 38).
When the leaders of churches, businesses, communities or nations are selective about the truths to which they are open and receptive, when they resist hearing and responding to hard truths about the true condition of whatever entity they have the responsibility to lead, when they rely on the encouragement and air cover of “respectable authorities” to refute inconvenient truths, when they seek to undermine and even punish truth-tellers, they repeat the sin of Jehoiakim and all of his successors who took the same tack.
The long-term effect of this happening in Judah was deep national suffering.
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes says that nothing is new under the sun. History and its patterns repeat themselves. We’ve seen it often. But Jeremiah still speaks…and needs to. Will we listen? We all need to listen and seek the truth and follow it, even if it is about us.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2018. All rights reserved for textual content.