Jeremiah can get downright depressing at times. Like I said at the beginning of this journey through Jeremiah, the struggle Jeremiah faces parallel the life of the Hebrew people, but in a more global sense follows our life faith cycle. This cycle often moves from blessed to lost to hopeless and eventually redemption, this week we are at the part of the story where to Jeremiah things seem utterly hopeless.
This week we meet Jeremiah when he is completely and utterly depressed. Things are so bad that he cannot even see a way out for his people and is really questioning if God really cares about his people. But the problem that Jeremiah seems to be having throughout the discourse of Jeremiah 8 and 9, is the fact that he seems to be forgetting that he is speaking from the moment and God is speaking from something larger, an understanding of the whole history.
This is exemplified through the reading that comes from psalm 79:1-9 the first reading this Sunday. The writer of this psalm is lamenting the fall of Jerusalem. While many psalms work around the direct subject or use an analogy, this psalm is very straightforward, almost angry, not with God, but with the people who were given everything and instead of being happy with what they had constantly turned to something else.
Interestingly, God seems to be having a sort of breakdown. He remarks how he has given the people everything yet they have turned away. Now in this case Jeremiah who is pleading for hope, God is in the position where he comes back essentially saying, “Even if I gave Hope would they accept it?”
Thus the question: “is there no balm in Gilead?” A legitimate question, but one that misses the bigger issue, Like taking Tylenol to get rid of pain from a broken leg, until the leg is fixed the balm, Tylenol, is not really going to make much of a difference, and can mask a pain that needs to be felt so as not to inflict more damage.
The cry for a balm is a cry for an easy way out. As people we do this all the time. Some churches make millions of dollars boiling faith and a Godly life to a simple prescription to be followed. Unfortunately, we often see how that prescription often leaves people very little space to grow and where faithfulness is often lost since the easy prescriptions often don’t hold up when life takes over and problems arise.
God knows to be the only way to wholeness is through a renewed faithfulness and trust in him. When we place God first and listen for where God is then we are able to begin reconciliation. And Like an alcoholic who has to admit to his faults before he can begin to heal, we have to admit our unfaithfulness before we can be restored, until that time, were not going to find a Balm in Gilead.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen