The Little Scroll of Consolation
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).
In my life’s darkest season, I recognized and named the story line underlying my anxiety: Fearing that I was becoming more vulnerable in a world becoming less merciful. Among my patients, I hear that same nightmare emerge at times of intense self-examination and catharsis. Yet, naming the nightmare can liberate the shackled soul.
Amid Jeremiah’s anguished prophecies, God broods and boils as the powerful ones in Judah protect their privilege by making the poor poorer and the low lower, more vulnerable, and isolated. God lives the nightmare with the lowly. Then the privileged fall into exile, dislocating the whole nation in the merciless place of exile in Babylon.
Jeremiah carries the suffering of God and Judah in his own bones. Yet, light breaks through the black clouds. His Little Scroll of Consolation, chapters 30-31, shines almost long enough to light the road home.
Not that Jeremiah sweeps aside the persistent pain. No, he must name it first to get a foothold on hope:
Thus says the LORD:
Your hurt is incurable,
your wound is grievous.
There is no one to uphold your cause,
no medicine for your wound,
no healing for you.
All your lovers have forgotten you;
they care nothing for you (Jeremiah 30:12-14a).
Exile realizes the nightmare of utter vulnerability and abandonment in a merciless world except… God, repents of the anger that allowed the nation to suffer the natural consequences of their unfaithfulness. They had ignored their vocation to be a light to the world and instead sought security on the world’s terms. Yet, God ultimately proves the only One upon whom they can count for mercy.
Thus says the Lord:
I am going to restore the fortunes of the
tents of Jacob,
and have compassion on his dwellings;
the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound,
and the citadel set on its rightful site.
Out of them shall come thanksgiving,
and the sound of merrymakers.
I will make them many, and they shall not
I will make them honored, and they
shall not be disdained…
And you shall be my people,
and I will be your God (30:18-19, 22).
According to the Little Scroll of Consolation, God’s children will live as originally intended in communion with God and each other. They will belong again.
Even more than the pre-exilic Israelites, our competitive pursuit of sovereign individual happiness makes losers of the vulnerable but ultimately losers of us all in a merciless world of our own making. If I live only for my own comfort and security, if I fail to realize that no individual finds real peace until all find it, I create my own merciless world.
Until we acknowledge our need for mercy, we will not offer enough of it to contribute to the solution. We need a better motivator and leveler than guilt alone. Respect for suffering – ours and that of the vulnerable – puts us on common ground where God’s community of compassion prevails over the chaos of competition. That is the only hope we can share with God’s beloved poor, the only joyful destination God promises.
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