"'The priests are like the prophets, all ungodly, wicked men. I have seen their despicable acts right here in my own Temple,' says the Lord."
When I found these words from Jeremiah 23 (verse 11 quoted from the New Living Translation) last night, I instantly thought of something that's been troubling me for a long time. On Sunday mornings and evenings I inevitably end up in church with a whole bunch of students from my college. I don't sit with them, but as a congregation we are worshiping together. We sing songs together, say together what we believe, read the same Bible references and listen to the same sermon. We do a good job of following along, of not interrupting the service, and of making polite conversation over coffee and punch afterwards. So far so good.
Keep in mind that the stereotypical student at my school carries with him a guffaw that lets everyone within range know that he is enjoying another dirty joke with his buddies. I used to tell myself to stop being so irritable; perhaps some people's laughs only sound
like a giggle given to something shameful. But by my third year here, I have overheard enough little snippets to know that this is unfortunately not the case. Like I said, this is only the average student, and there are some exceptions. Anyway, it's not one bit surprising to hear about a once-strong Christian college letting morals slide.
But this is the trouble: though I try to convince myself to be patient and let these young men grow up, find their faith, see that Christ means something real - though I try, I soon find out that these are not occasional drop-ins at church. These are the Sunday school teachers, the youth group leaders, the praise team members, the pre-seminary majors. I cannot tell you how much of a comfort it is to read in Jeremiah 23, verse twenty-three: "'Am I a God who is only in one place?' asks the Lord. 'Do they think I cannot see what they are doing?'" (NLT)
The chapter speaks of false ministers who claim to have words from God, but are really just saying what's on their own mind. I wondered what goes on when such people read straight from the Bible - does God still speak from verse 32, "I did not send or appoint them, and they have no message at all for my people"
? A couple Sundays ago, I heard the very people who introduced me to my college's gutter culture reading, to their youth group, a well-known Bible passage about watching one's tongue
. Confused, I continued reading in Jeremiah.
The answer I found was clear, and deeply insightful. Starting partway through verse 28, now quoting from the New American Standard translation, the amazing result is outlined. "'...let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?' declares the Lord. 'Is not My word like fire?...and like a hammer which shatters a rock?"