Columnists > Voices
Gustave Doré

In a day of hardship

Remember nothing is too hard for God

Issue: "Obama," Nov. 15, 2008

Poor Baruch. A secretary's work is often the thankless, grubby sort, especially when scribing for a prophet of doom. The scripture tells us that Baruch wrote on a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord that He had spoken to him. And they were not pretty.

Seventy years of captivity in Babylon. God setting his face against Jerusalem "for harm and not for good." The Babylonians burning the city with fire. The king of Babylon ("my servant," the Lord calls him) subjecting God's people to "a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation" (Jeremiah 25:9).

How should God's people respond? "Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people and live" (27:12). Submit to your enemies-serve them!-is a message that goes against our American pride. We miss God's long-term strategy in the rush to be right, right now.

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I don't know whether Baruch was thinking ahead, but he set to writing what Jeremiah dictated to him. If he were a product of the 20th century, I imagine him hunched over the manual typewriter, Jack Kerouac style, typing 100 words a minute on a continuous scroll while the cigarette dangled from his lips and the ashes cooled in a little heap on the floor. Jerking the final wad from the typewriter, he'd hand it to Jeremiah. But Jeremiah would wave it away. Baruch had more dirty work. The prophet of doom was banned from the synagogue, so Baruch had to deliver the message. And to read it. (By now you are beginning to see yourself, as I am, cast as another helpless Baruch somewhere in this drama with a modern-day real-life-post-election-economically-paralyzed setting.)

Baruch reads it aloud in the hearing of all the people of Judah, he reads it indoors and outdoors and in the upper court of the king, and in the chamber of the king's secretary. But before it's delivered personally to the king, the king's man, sort of secretary to secretary, gives Baruch a piece of advice: "Go and hide, you and Jeremiah."

So the king's man reads it, there in the winter house by the fire, and as he does the king, calm and cool (some might even say presidential) cuts it column by column and tosses the words into the fire until they are no more. Because you see, "neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments" (36:24).

Now the Babylonian and Chaldean armies are marching toward Jerusalem. The king of Judah is fiddling by his fire, having put Jeremiah under house arrest. But instead of sending Baruch into hiding, Jeremiah sends him on a business errand: to buy a plot of land, and to have the deed of purchase witnessed and sealed. Think about it: Enemies are massing, real estate values are plummeting, a government transition is on the way, and Jeremiah wants to buy land!

Not knowing, or disregarding, that he is yet to be cast into a cistern, Jeremiah has visions of houses, fields, and vineyards flourishing one day. He says, "Ah, Lord God! It is You who has made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for You."

I am writing purposely before election results are in, because whoever wins will leave many opponents who believe God has failed in our national life and that everything for months and perhaps years to come is too hard. Some will be looking for messengers to shoot, but those who live by their counter-intuition will buy and plant. They will make it a point to say every day to God, Nothing is too hard for You. They will be like Auntie Paula who rations mealy meal to Zimbabwe's ill and orphaned despite a corrupt government and 11 million percent inflation. Or like doctors I know just back from broken Somalia, where they found desperate need for surgery and training, sure to go again despite suicide bombings that killed 30. Or like church laymen I know in Syria who are buying a field, literally, to build housing for Iraqi refugees. It's a choice tract bordering Christian and Muslim neighborhoods, and one of them said securing it has been "like snatching a piece of meat from the mouth of a lion." And that, my friends, is work worth doing in these hard days.

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