Back in the mid-1970’s I was working with Rev Ken Delbridge in Bundaberg; I recall at one stage Ken saying that he had found this great little book – “Are you Joking, Jeremiah?” What I have just discovered is that this little book was written in 1967 by none other than my friend Norm Habel, who in his working life was an Old Testament scholar. But it is the kind of question that may well have been asked of the prophet!
The opening segment of the book of Jeremiah records the experience of the prophet's call by God. In many ways it fits a classical pattern, in which a word, coming from outside our direct experience, coming from God, changes our whole approach to life. It is as if we are “taken over” by that Word, and anyone who has ever had a strong sense of “call” will be able to relate to that.
But there is another element here which makes it just a little different from the others. In chapter 1 verse 5, God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” There is a really profound intimacy reflected in that. It is a reflection of what we sometimes call Prevenient Grace, or the grace of God going before us, preparing the way for relationship with God. But this really pushes that idea back almost to an ultimate point.
Someone recalled these lines:
Are you joking, Jeremiah?
Are you poking fun at us?
God doesn’t talk to teenage kids,
To kids like us, like that.
Ah! But God does talk to “teenage kids”, to young children, and to older people as well. No, Jeremiah was not joking!
Jeremiah's awareness of a pre-natal relationship with God was a personal testimony; he wasn't necessarily saying that God knew everyone in that way. You may or may not be able to relate to the idea, although it's something I've quite often thought about as I have reflected on my own story. For someone who was not raised in an active Christian home, Jeremiah’s declaration makes a lot of sense to me – almost as if I didn’t have much say in the direction my life would take!
In any event, I want to suggest that the Biblical message is that we are special to God, and we might keep that in mind over the coming weeks. After all, Jeremiah was not joking!
Clive W Ayre