Jeremiah 16:1–17:27, Romans 1:18–2:11, Proverbs 16:1–11
I like zebras, perhaps because I’m also attracted to clear boundaries with black and white explanations. For instance, God says people either have faith in Jesus Christ or they don’t. I cannot be ‘partly’ a child of God, just as a woman cannot be partly pregnant!
I also like reading the OT prophets who spoke in black and white terms. In today’s reading, Jeremiah contrasts the person who trusts himself and the person who trusts the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.”
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:5–8)
Sometimes it’s not easy to discern faith because we look at outward appearance. Also, many of us assume we are okay; the condemnations of Scripture apply to others. However, Solomon reminds me that God knows who we are: “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit . . . . Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” (Proverbs 16:2, 5)
Solomon also reminds me that when a person lives by faith, God blesses that person: “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.” (Proverbs 16:7–8)
Lest anyone think that this Old Testament black and white perspective fades into shades of gray in the NT, a lengthy passage from Romans overviews issue of unbelief also, and uses strong blessing/cursing language just like the OT prophets did.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (Romans 1:18–32, 2:1)
God reveals Himself in nature, but sinful humanity rejects Him. So God lets sinners go their own way, and it seems the deeper their rejection, the deeper the muck they get into. Yet I notice that God doesn’t put sin into a hierarchy. He says disobedience to parents is just as evil as murder and hating God.
Without repentance, all are doomed: “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed . . . for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth . . . . there will be wrath and fury.”
But there is a white side to contrast the blackness. Those who by faith and obedience live lives of patience and doing well bear the marks of people to whom God has granted everlasting life.