Saturday, August 28, 2010

A summary of human troubles in 15 words

One of the most insightful passages in all Scripture is from Jeremiah chapter 2:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils:they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters,and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
(Jeremiah 2:12-13 ESV)

This short passage gives an amazingly clear picture of mankind's basic problem, and a surprisingly concise summary of our history to date.

God begins His statement by calling the universe to pay attention to what He has to say. And when it does, it will be shocked by what it hears. The charge is outrageous - it goes beyond comprehension. But it's true nonetheless.

"My people" - When God says "my people" He's talking specifically about the Israelites, the Jews. These are the people God revealed Himself to and made promises to, and who He entered into a relationship with. These are the people who actually knew God, so they should have understood.

"Committed two evils" - These people - God's people - have done two of the stupidest, most futile, most self-absorbed and stubborn things possible.

Evil #1: What they could have had but refused
"They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters"

What is it they were offered? God describes Himself as a fountain. A fountain is alive, fresh, real. It's refreshing and life-giving.

But God is a specific kind of fountain - a living source of living water.
Living water - we can't define it, but somehow we know exactly what it is. The image is powerful and speaks to us in an undeniable, viseral way.

Evil #2 : What they took instead
They "hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water"

Instead of accepting what God offered, they decided to try something on their own. You can almost hear the thought process: "Yeah, that fountain looks okay I guess, but let's see how this stagnant-water-held-for-months-in-a-leaky-hole-in-the-ground thing works out first. You know, before we do anything crazy. . . "

Not only did they decide to go with the cistern (a cistern is a big underground pool with a hole in the top that holds runoff water), but they had to dig it out themselves, and (surprise, surprise. . . ) it didn't hold water very well after all.

So to summarize, they chose:
- A hole in the ground instead of a fountain
- Stagnant runoff water instead of living water
- Months of hard toil that ended in failure instead of a free gift that is perfect in every way

And what does all that mean in 2010-American? It means they chose to live by their own rules, their own choices, their own power, their own way. They chose to be their own masters. And so, they suffered.

But here's the thing - they're not alone in their foolishness. Every person ever born has had the same choice. And sadly, many choose the broken cistern. That's why we're so screwed up. Don't believe me? Try reading these words from the Apostle Paul, and see if they don't remind you of the 10 o'clock news. It's exactly the same message Jeremiah had, but this time it's about everyone.

They have no excuse for not knowing God. Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. . . . Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. (Romans 1:18-32)