Sometimes leaders who pray may want to ask, “Where are you, God? Why do you tolerate injustice?” Jeremiah, proclaiming that God would punish Israel by means of pagan nations, encountered bitter opposition. Even his own relatives conspired against him, and almost ambushed him. Jeremiah says, “I had been led like a gentle lamb to the slaughter” (Jeremiah 11:19). Jeremiah appealed to God’s love for justice when he prayed a call for lethal fire, “But, O Lord Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause” (Jer. 11:20).
This prayer and a longer one in the next chapter inspire as they reveal the prophet’s brutally honest fears and desires: Jeremiah trusts God to deliver him; he knows God’s integrity. Still, the prevalence of evil behavior in his society haunts him. The impact of this wickedness, he observes, even damages the environment. He prays,
“You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts. Yet you know me, O Lord; you see me and test my thoughts about you. Drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter! How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished. Moreover, the people are saying , ‘He will not see what happens to us'”(Jeremiah 12:1-4).
Jeremiah laments the prosperity of the wicked; he uses agricultural metaphors to implicate God in their oppression of the land: “You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. He still recognizes God’s omniscience and that God desires that right prevail. The prophet also notes that the wicked profess faith in God despite their actions, foreshadowing Jesus’ lament in Luke 6:46: “Why do call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not what I say?” Confession of faith in God without confirming actions fails to satisfy in both Old and New Testaments. James, the brother of Jesus, asserts that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2: 17). Jeremiah accuses, “You are always on their lips but far from their hearts.” Jeremiah profoundly realizes his own accountability to God; God tests his thoughts! He pleads for God to hold the wicked accountable to the same extent. The prophet who was “like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter” argues that God should “drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter!” Their disregard for God’s will has had an impact on the land; even birds and animals have died as a consequence. The arrogance of their sin despite professed faith emerges in their assertion, “He will not see what happens to us!”
Jeremiah struggled to reconcile widespread hypocrisy in a supposedly believing culture with the justice of God. He witnessed damage caused by unthinking rebels against God. The more he proclaimed God’s will, the more pain he experienced. At the beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry, God had promised that he would be with him. In this prayer, Jeremiah voices how hard it can be to trust God’s promises. He wrestled with his doubts; he pleaded for God to vindicate him. Other prayers of Jeremiah reveal his love for his people even as he warns them. These prayers in chapters 11 and 12 unveil his fear and doubt, but also his confidence that in the end, God will be faithful to his values. We too may question why God tolerates evil in our own society. Like Jeremiah, let us pray with conviction and commit our cause to God.