The Four J’s: Jeremiah the Mad Prophet

This week on The Allender Center Podcast, Dr. Dan Allender returns to “The Four J’s,” a series engaging the sweeping, chaotic, sometimes terrible and sometimes glorious stories of four characters in the Old Testament: Jacob, Joseph, Jeremiah, and Jonah. Dan visits the story of Jeremiah, who is widely known as the weeping prophet, but who Dan thinks would be more aptly named “the mad prophet.”

“It’s a book where judgment is really high on the horizon,” says Dan. “There are inklings of promise ahead, inklings of mercy and love, but it’s a difficult, difficult book that leaves you with a foul taste in your mouth about us as people, and frankly about God as judge.”

Dan starts with a brief look at the context of Jeremiah’s life, a season of geopolitical turmoil full of manipulation and injustice—a lot like our world. In the midst of the upheaval, God calls Jeremiah as a young child to be a prophet, and for that calling Jeremiah is ostracized, tormented, and nearly killed. “God is being deceptive,” says Dan, “offering meaningless words of ‘I’ll protect you,’ and then allowing Jeremiah to be hated, scourged, beaten, hung in a pit of dung—at worst it’s deceptive, at best it’s bizarre.”

God doesn’t invite, he demands that you be in an engagement of complaint with him. […] If there’s an absence of struggle, there is really an absence of trust.

The disturbing nature of Jeremiah’s story confronts us with the need for lament, the cost of following our calling, and our reaction to both individual and collective trauma. “Most of Jeremiah is a kind of poetry of the heart, of exposure of brokenness, occasional reminders that there will be a day of redemption,” says Dan. “The holding together of this kind of extremity leaves us that question of, what are we escaping to live more uniform, more homeostatic lives? Are we aware of what we are called to speak into individually, familially, corporately, and even within our nation?”

Dan was confronted with this during The Allender Center’s most recent Story Workshop, during which he engaged with two African-American leaders who were asking difficult questions about the work of The Allender Center in the midst of our nation’s deep racial tension, in the midst of the reactions of rage or indifference to a movement like Black Lives Matter, and in light of the profound and prolonged traumatization of the African-American community. In that conversation, Dan kept thinking of the story of Jeremiah. “You have got to use the word trauma to begin to understand something of the nature of this. […] We who address trauma, how can we not address issues of trauma in our world, and particularly in the world of the African-American community?”

“If we are called to be prophets, are we prepared to die? Are we prepared to struggle? […] If your life has only personal suffering—certain losses, certain struggles—that does not include a sense of stepping into waters that are too fast for any of us to manage, then there will be a certain ease to our world that is unbecoming of those who are called to be prophets.”