Last week we looked at the context for Jeremiah’s letter to the Jewish captives and God’s message to them in Jeremiah 29: stop panicking, pick up your hammer, and make yourself at home. In other words, don’t fight what is part of God’s plan for good.
But God had another message to give to His displaced children:
Don’t Listen to False Prophets
Part of the reason why the Israelites freaked out at their captivity (okay, if we imagine them freaking out, as God’s placating responses suggest) was because of the false prophets who had been–and were still–feeding them lies. Lies about their situation, lies about their future, lies about themselves, and lies about God.
The rest of Jeremiah 29 carries heavy themes of judgment from God on these false prophets “who spoke lying words in My name, which I have not commanded them” (vs 23).
If these prophets were promising peace, prosperity, rescue, and freedom, wouldn’t it make sense for their hearers to get upset at the war, destruction, and captivity that came instead?
We have false prophets today too, people and cultural ideas (along with our own natures and misunderstandings) that contradict God’s truth. For example:
- “You need more faith to be healed”
- “God wants you to be healthy”
- “God uses the healthy more than the sick”
- “The Christian life is easy and perfect”
- “You’re sick because you sinned”
- “You have to have good health to have a good life”
- “Modern medicine can cure everything”
- “God owes you an explanation”
Some of these messages are blatantly wrong. Others are a little more tricky. I’d like to take just a moment to compare these messages with God’s message, as carefully as I can.
“You need more faith to be healed”
Yes, there is an element of faith in our prayers, and Scriptural principles and examples make it clear that a lack of faith can limit God’s demonstration of His power. (Consider the Israelites’ fear and unbelief and resulting defeat or captivity throughout the Old Testament, compared to the many faith-filled individuals and the resulting miracles in the New Testament.)
Faith isn’t just asking God for big things, however. Faith is ultimately resting in God’s perfect plan, whether or not He does what we want. (Who answers to whom, anyway?)
Besides, the underlying philosophy of this statement is that I can earn God’s favor. More work (more faith) = more favor (the result I want). This runs contrary to all of what Scripture tells us not just for salvation but also for the Christian life after salvation: by God’s grace alone–what He gives us–and not because of any performance of our own.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.I Corinthians 15:10
“God wants you to be healthy”
This is another tricky one. Yes, God wants good for His children, He delights in delighting us, and He hurts with us when we suffer. But what this idea can suggest is that God wants our happiness more than our sanctification.
Scripture makes it clear over and over again that God’s priority for our time on earth is not our temporary, earthly happiness (a good life, an easy life, a comfortable life, etc.) but our sanctification, our spiritual growth, and our relationship with Him. (See the episodes on Disciple Questions, especially questions 1-4, on The Thinklings Podcast.)
In other words, if we have to go through suffering in this life to become more like Christ (and let’s be honest, what purifies us more than suffering?), God will let us suffer in order for our faith to be refined before our eternal life of glory, perfection, and perfect health. (Amen?)
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.I Peter 1:6-7
“God uses the healthy more than the sick”
If God only used healthy people in His Kingdom, that would eliminate probably 90% of saints in church history. In Bible times, Paul had a physical weakness (II Cor 12:7) but founded and encouraged churches all throughout the known world. In fact, he makes it clear to the Galatians that the only reason he came to them and preached the gospel in the first place was because of his physical infirmity (Gal 4:13).
In more recent times, preacher Charles Spurgeon suffered from gout. Missionary Amy Carmichael spent the last twenty years of her life bedridden after a fall. Speaker Joni Earickson Tada leads a remarkable ministry because of a diving accident that left her a quadriplegic. And these are just a few examples.
God can use the sick just as much as He uses the healthy–sometimes even more so.
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.II Corinthians 12:7-10
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.I Corinthians 1:26-29
“The Christian life is easy and perfect”
Just read II Timothy 3:12:
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
Then consider what Christian in all of human history has ever had an easy life.
“You’re sick because you’re sinned”
We’ve written about this often here on the blog. (See Lessons From Job: Why Do We Suffer?, Meant for Good: Chronic Illness and the Life of Joseph, Spiritual Depression: Trials, and Spiritual Depression: God’s Chastening for just a few of our posts that discuss suffering and both how and why God uses it in our lives.)
In short, God does not punish His children for their sins–Jesus took all our punishment upon Himself on the cross of Calvary. God does, however, chastise us (correct us, discipline us), often allowing or intentionally using hard times, with the ultimate goal of restoring us to His right paths.
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? . . . Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.Hebrews 12:5-7, 11
Besides, there’s so much innate brokenness in this world and in our bodies, thanks to the curse of the Fall, that we don’t need to blame suffering on ourselves.
For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.Romans 8:22-23
“You have to have good health to have a good life”
Both Scripture and the experience of anyone with chronic illness refute this idea so commonly propagated by our Western culture. (See the post from two weeks ago.) Yes, life is hard, extra hard for those of us who have more limitations than the average human, but our circumstances don’t determine our joy.
Life still offers so much to us, even in our limitations. More than that, God offers us Himself, the ultimate Good who can fill every breath and every day if we let Him. Life may not be easy, but it can still be good no matter our physical condition.
Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!Psalm 118:1
For His mercy endures forever.
“Modern medicine can cure anything”
It’s easy to believe this idea in our day and age when we have pills for this and treatments for that and near-instant remedies for everything in between. We may be tempted to put humans in the place of God and expect our doctors, therapists, or other practitioners to be both omniscient and omnipotent.
But we have to remember that despite the remarkable advances in medicine and technology we’ve experienced in the last century, humans are still limited, both in capacity and in knowledge. There’s so much that we still don’t know and can’t do. The reality is, sometimes there just may not be a way to fix it.
“God owes you an explanation”
We’ll look more at this one next week. Suffice to say here that God, the Creator, doesn’t owe us, the created, anything.
Back to That Hammer
So we see that part of making ourselves at home in chronic illness means shutting out–and locking out–the voices that try to tell us we shouldn’t be here, we don’t belong here, we don’t deserve to be here, God doesn’t know what He’s doing, God isn’t good, etc.
Some of these voices we can kick out once and be done. Others, such as the ongoing voices of our culture and our own natures, like Bilbo’s “string of confounded visitors hanging on the bell,” never give us a moment’s peace. With these we need to keep shutting all the doors and windows, reinforce each lock and bolt, and turn on the stereo of Scripture–as loud as we need–to drown out the lies with God’s truth.
We need to play Smeagol as he rejects the slick lies Gollum is whispering to him:
Like the Jews in captivity, once we do away with the false prophets around us and embrace God’s truth, we’ll have more peace and quiet–inside and outside–for picking up that hammer and making ourselves at home in the valley.
What false messages about suffering, chronic illness, and God’s character are you believing? What Scripture passages combat these lies? How can you surround yourself with God’s truth to help build (and decorate) your home in chronic illness?