God And A Rose In The Desert

Rose in the desertOK, this rose is not actually IN the desert, but it has felt as if it could be. Here in SoCal we had an unseasonable heat wave—five days of temperatures reminiscent of August, not March. St. Patrick’s Day? Surely we’ve done a time warp thing and ended up in summer.

In fact, the last four were all 90° F or higher, and that in itself was a record. Three of the days set individual records as the hottest March 13, 14, 15 on record.

I’d suspect the Ides of March or Pi Day, but I’m not superstitious. Instead, I believe God is in control, even of our weather. I often want to say, No, Mr. Weatherman, there is no Mother Nature who is giving us heat or rain or wind or low pressure or snow or any of the rest. It is God who foreordains such thing.

I admit, though, as I sat here in my air-condition-less apartment, I was praying for God’s mercy. It’s hard to write or edit when it’s uncomfortably warm, but it’s impossible when the computer over-heats.

At last today we had a break in the heat. Mercifully (!! 😉 ) the temperature dropped nine degrees, and the prediction is that tomorrow will be even cooler.

In all this my poor plants outside on my porch in full sun soaked up the water which I dutifully gave them every morning. Still, when I saw the rosebud on my rather unhealthy potted rose bush, I didn’t think it would survive. I’ve seen what the sun can do to those poor things. They get all droopy and start wilting before they ever open.

But not this one. Somehow, despite the heat, this little rose looks like it’s going to survive and thrive.

That little flower reminded me of Jeremiah. In virtually any way that you can look at it, Jeremiah had a horrible life.

At God’s direction he prophesied to a people who did not listen to him—not once or a couple times or even a couple years! He did this his whole life. And as a result, he was mocked, ridiculed, beaten, thrown in the stocks, arrested and put in the dungeon, tossed into a mud-filled cistern, then watched as his prophecy came true.

All the leaders of Jerusalem were killed and the rest, all but the poorest of the poor, were led into captivity. Jerusalem itself was torched.

Here’s how Jeremiah characterized his life in Lamentations:

I am the man who has seen affliction
Because of the rod of His wrath.
He has driven me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
Surely against me He has turned His hand
Repeatedly all the day.
He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away,
He has broken my bones.
He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship.
In dark places He has made me dwell,
Like those who have long been dead.
He has walled me in so that I cannot go out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry out and call for help,
He shuts out my prayer.
He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;
He has made my paths crooked.
He is to me like a bear lying in wait,
Like a lion in secret places.
He has turned aside my ways and torn me to pieces;
He has made me desolate.
He bent His bow
And set me as a target for the arrow.
He made the arrows of His quiver
To enter into my inward parts.
I have become a laughingstock to all my people,
Their mocking song all the day.
He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drunk with wormwood.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
He has made me cower in the dust.
My soul has been rejected from peace;
I have forgotten happiness.
So I say, “My strength has perished,
And so has my hope from the LORD.” (3:1-19)

Those words remind me of Job. Jeremiah’s condition reminds me of a barren desert, of a dry wilderness.

But remarkably, he turns a corner. And there’s a rose. This is too beautiful, and some of these verses are well-known because of the praise they offer God. I think, though, that we forget the context.

Jeremiah had seen horrors. Famine killed the Jews before the Babylonians stepped foot into the city. And it wasn’t pretty. Parents were eating their dead children and bodies were lying unburied in the streets.

Then the enemy breached the wall. The king, the princes, and their advisers made a run for it, but they were captured. The princes were killed before their father’s eyes, then he was blinded. The last image he saw were his dead sons.

Next Jerusalem was looted, the temple was desecrated by the presence of these godless adversaries who stripped it of anything of value. Then they burned it along with the palaces, and torn down the walls of the city. Jerusalem was a ruins. The jewel of God, a desolate heap.

Jeremiah’s own personal difficulties were part of the greater picture of the destruction of the nation. But as he lamented, he did not lose sight of God, and that’s the part that is so beautiful. Here’s a godly response to suffering, one that is Job, times ten. Why we don’t look to Lamentations in times of suffering, I don’t know. I mean, these are not platitudes. This is from a man who knew suffering all his life:

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man that he should bear
The yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone and be silent
Since He has laid it on him.

Let him put his mouth in the dust,
Perhaps there is hope.
Let him give his cheek to the smiter,
Let him be filled with reproach.
For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.

For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.
To crush under His feet
All the prisoners of the land,
To deprive a man of justice
In the presence of the Most High,
To defraud a man in his lawsuit—
Of these things the Lord does not approve.
Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass,
Unless the Lord has commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
That both good and ill go forth?
Why should any living mortal, or any man,
Offer complaint in view of his sins?

Let us examine and probe our ways,
And let us return to the LORD. (3:21-40)

We are so conscious today, in large part because of sermons on Job, of the fact that not all suffering is because of personal sin, and that is certainly true. But God still wants to use our suffering, if not for discipline and correction, then to strengthen our faith, to provide an example to others, to give us an opportunity to trust Him in a new way. To give us His comfort. Or to show His mercy. Sort of like a rose blooming though it hardly seems possible.

Published in: on March 17, 2015 at 6:59 pm  Comments (4)  
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