The book of Jeremiah has a small verse toward the beginning that is the key to life. It either describes what is true of us or what was true of us but is not true anymore. It’s such a key verse that a counselor has made it the root of his teaching about our emotional health. But that’s for another day. The verse is Jeremiah 2:13.
For my people have forsaken Me the fountain of living water
To hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
I’ve been watching a YouTube video one of the atheists from the Facebook group posted. He’s explaining his journey from a teen who believed he was gong to become a pastor, to the atheist he is today. In the first part he describes how he was involved in church and how he was known at school as the Bible guy.
So what happened that brought such a radical change? The verse in Jeremiah explains. First there’s a point where people turning away from God forsake him. For some it comes sooner than later, but it manifests in a rejection of what God has said.
Next comes turning to our own resources which, like the broken cistern, can’t work.
Lot thought he could move from the fertile valley where he’d gone to live after separating from Abram, into the godless city of Sodom, and he did, but at a cost. Moses thought he could bring water from the rock by striking it instead of speaking to it, and water came, but at a cost. David thought he could hide from Saul by going over to the Philistines, and he did, but at a cost. Peter wanted to fight the soldiers who came to take Jesus and crucify Him, but he failed utterly.
Whenever man goes his own way, there’s either outright failure or great consequence later. Our schemes don’t work.
Eve wanted to be like God, ignoring the fact that God had actually made her in His likeness and had breathed life into her so that she became a living soul. She forsook Him, though, so she could go her own way and eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
What’s more, Adam followed her, knowing full well that God had said eating would result in death. He dug his own cistern presumably because he didn’t want to trust God to fix the problem Eve had created. He thought the only way for him to hold onto Eve was to do what she’d done.
At any rate, the schemes the two of them concocted did not work. They certainly didn’t become so very wise that they were like God—except, perhaps, in their own minds. That’s really the problem.
People who turn from God are basically saying they are wise enough in and of themselves to determine what’s right and wrong. The don’t what an authority telling them what to do, which is why some of them refer to God as a tyrant. In their minds, they are the top authority, and anyone who wants to boss them around has overstepped his bounds. He’s taking from them what they’ve determined is their right—to call the shots for their own lives.
Christians often talk about the throne of our lives and the struggle, an ongoing struggle, to let God sit in the place of authority where He, being sovereign, belongs. But those who forsake God have basically declared war on Him and have pushed Him off the throne and out of their lives. They have no struggle. They’ve decided they are in charge, and the only issue that comes up from time to time is how to make it work.
It won’t work. Not in the long run, and often not in the short run. But that’s not a fact you can argue people into believing. Most often people need to come to an end of themselves. They try and try and try and life is still falling apart, in one area or another. Many times in multiple areas.
That’s precisely what happened to Judah when Jeremiah was prophesying to them. God sent prophets and they ignored them. Then He sent adversity, but they went their own way. They thought God was the one letting them down, not rescuing them when trouble came. They didn’t understand that He wanted them to turn to Him and repent.
Here’s how God through Jeremiah described them:
“For all of them are adulterers,
An assembly of treacherous men.
They bend their tongue like their bow;
Lies and not truth prevail in the land;
For they proceed from evil to evil,
And they do not know Me,” declares the LORD (9:2-3).
A few verses later, God declares His intent to punish His people for their waywardness:
“I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,
A haunt of jackals;
And I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant.”
Who is the wise man that may understand this? And who is he to whom the mouth of the LORD has spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined, laid waste like a desert, so that no one passes through? The LORD said, “Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice nor walked according to it, but have walked after the stubbornness of their heart and after the Baals, as their fathers taught them” (vv 11-14).
What God wanted was for them to repent, turn back, and worship Him, but they weren’t willing. Nor are many today willing to give up going their own way. They don’t want to let God call the shots.
This atheist who made the video said as much. There came a day when he started dating the girl he said had a reputation in high school as “the party girl.” Eventually, he, the Bible guy, decided they should move in together. People in his church tried to tell him he shouldn’t but that didn’t matter. And then, shortly afterward, he started drifting away from church. And besides, God wasn’t answering his prayers about the things he didn’t understand in the Bible.
Well, sure. He’d already made up his mind about what he thought about the Bible, about God’s authority in his life. God says clearly that our sins make a separation between us and God and because of them, God’s face is hid from us so that He does not hear.
He’s not going to continue giving us living water when we’ve forsaken Him, when we’re off trying to dig our own cisterns, broken though they are. Not until we get on our knees and repent.