Where are you most confident that you will find God?
Some of our high church traditions have cultivated a surety of finding God in liturgy or sacred space. Some of our evangelical traditions have groomed us with the expectation of finding God in the pages of scripture. Some of us concede to people in places of authority. And the (would-be) edgy among us are most likely to point to the iconoclastic voice of the prophet.
And one verse in Jeremiah mows us all down at once. Here’s the accusation leveled against the people:
The priests did not say, “Where is the LORD?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit. (NRSV)
I’m not sure there’s a more concise dismantling of all the ways we would hope to be able to confidently find God.
In Jeremiah, as in so much of the prophetic tradition, the great failure of the people is found in the realm of social justice. Jeremiah 7 will lay side-by-side the people’s attitude toward the temple and their treatment of their most vulnerable. Simply put, you cannot lie and defraud and rig your courts of lie and step on the orphan and widow and then think that you can come find safety and shelter in a house with Yhwh’s name on it.Forget about it.
So when the verse above accuses the priests of not asking, “Where is the Lord?” it’s an indictment of presumption. It’s an indictment of blindness.
They presume to know the answer. Yhwh is in a place, the place where Yhwh promised to be. The place maintained by our ritual and liturgy.
And in their assumption they missed where Yhwh truly was—in the law court alongside the wrongly convicted, in the bedroom next to the hungry child.
It holds up a mirror to us. It might be precisely our place of piety (our quiet time, our sacrament, our liturgy, our church building) that we are farthest from God precisely because we are so sure that God is present that we forget to ask where, in fact, God truly is.
The Book People Do Not Know
The law, the perfect reflection of God’s character and wisdom, the embodiment of God’s identity in instruction for the people—and those who handled it did not know the God whose picture it was.