The people of Jeremiah’s day were used to the late summer breezes blowing hard. They separated the chaff from their grain by tossing it up into this September wind. They weren’t used to storms coming in fall and bringing devastation. They were used to petty wars and raiding parties worrying their borders, they weren’t expecting the well disciplined armies of Nebuchadnezzar and the loss of their nation. In a similar way, people today are used to an occasional bout of bad weather, but we are slow to accept the global consequences of climate change. Further, we don’t admit that the political climate seems a bit polarized. Wise and moderate people fail to be elected. Lives given to public service are disparaged. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” (Yeats, The Second Coming). Are these things just bad luck, or the precursors of a social hurricane, such as the one that gripped Europe a century ago?
Those who are prophetic today will speak of the environment and the consequences of an industrial age that trains our leaders to be “skilled in doing evil” (Jeremiah 4:22). When I first considered this Sunday’s scripture (Jeremiah chapter 4), I wondered if it was bad form for me to lift up phases like, “I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void,” and “all the birds of the air had fled… the fruitful land was a desert,” and in summary, “Because of this the earth shall mourn” (vv. 23,25,28). Jeremiah was seeing in the land and wildlife the judgement of God. I see in our air and water the misjudgment of narrow minded men.
“Will it preach?” You ask. The context of the whole Bible is framed by the command that we humans be stewards over our planet (Genesis 1:28). Further, the phrase that the earth mourns because of our sin is repeated throughout the prophets and picked up by the Apostle Paul (Romans 8:19-20). In fact, the problem is the narrowness of our scope. We only apply theology to social systems when it pleases us. This led the Dutch Calvinists to support apartheid in South Africa — narrowly interpreting certain passages to apply to racial purity and not seeing how the whole of God's revelation commands us to love our neighbors.
Karl Barth famously urged his student to interpret the daily news with their Bibles open. So, Jeremiah says, “I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro” (v24) and this week there is conclusive evidence reported on how fracking is causing earthquakes in Oklahoma. Am I to give this one a pass just because I am a lowly preacher?