Our Lives Are Not Our Own
God directs our paths and the suffering we endure in this life isn’t because God is mad at us, but because he loves us as sons and daughters.
Jeremiah 10:17-25 starts with urgency. Grab what you can and get out of here! The enemy is at the gates and we’re about to be sent packing!
The feeling isn’t unlike what many felt when they received the call to evacuate from the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires last year. I’ve never been in a real fire, but as a former principal, there were times when the alarm went off and we all had to drop everything and head out.
In Jeremiah 10:17 God tells the Israelites to,
Gather up your bundle from the ground, O you who dwell under siege!
There’s no time to pack up everything. Just grab your backpack and head out:
For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I am slinging out the inhabitants of the land at this time, and I will bring distress on them, that they may feel it” (Jeremiah 10:18).
It’s all happening so fast that God says it’s like “slinging” people out of a slingshot. It’s a violent, all-of-a-sudden action. And as we read a few verses later, what’s left behind will only be suitable for wild animals.
A voice, a rumor! Behold, it comes!— a great commotion out of the north country to make the cities of Judah a desolation, a lair of jackals (Jeremiah 10:22).
Desolation is what Israel deserves because they’ve rebelled against their God. They’ve been given plenty of warnings and God has been very patient, but now time is up.
But, what about Jeremiah? Is he going to suffer along with all of his people? Jeremiah was a righteous prophet. Unlike Jonah, Jeremiah faithfully did everything God asked of him. He didn’t deserve to be punished. Yet as we’re going to see more clearly, he was made “an example of suffering and patience” (James 5:10).
And this is what Jeremiah expected. He wasn’t surprised to suffer along with his people. In Jeremiah 8:21 he said, “since my people are crushed, I’m crushed.” He totally expected it and didn’t try to avoid it.
Now, there were three kinds of suffering that Jeremiah endured: physical suffering, personal suffering, and public suffering. Let’s look at each one.
Jeremiah 10:19 says,
Woe is me because of my hurt! My wound is grievous. But I said, “Truly this is an affliction, and I must bear it.”
Maybe the words used here are just metaphors for the emotional pain Jeremiah endured, but I think it’s more than that. The Israelites didn’t just suffer emotionally. They suffered physically, went hungry, and got sick. They suffered physically, and Jeremiah suffered along with them.
“Grievous” is a word that means “incurable” and “affliction” is a word that means “sickness.” So just because Jeremiah was a faithful prophet, doing the will of God, it didn’t mean he had the right to expect freedom from physical suffering or sickness.
Jeremiah also lost his family and his home. Jeremiah 10:20 says,
My tent is destroyed, and all my cords are broken; my children have gone from me, and they are not; there is no one to spread my tent again and to set up my curtains.
If you’ve ever set up a tent, you know it’s a lot easier to take down than it is to set up. As the invaders came in, they knocked down all of the tents by cutting the ropes holding them up, including Jeremiah’s.
So Jeremiah is now homeless, but what's worse, all his children have been taken away and he’s never going to see them again. There’s no one left to help him rebuild, but worse, he’ll live the rest of his life not knowing if any of his family are even alive.
He suffered physically and personally. And...
Jeremiah 10:21 says,
For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the Lord; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.
The shepherds he’s talking about are the leaders of the nation, the religious and political leaders. These are the public officials who were supposed to protect and feed the sheep, but all they accomplished was more suffering for everyone.
The text calls them “stupid” and I like how the New Living Translation says they “have lost their senses.” They’re out of their minds. Why? Because they don’t inquire of the Lord. They think they know best, but they ignore God’s instruction so the sheep are scattered without anyone leading them in the right direction.
So everyone suffers and Jeremiah suffers along with them. His calling as a servant of God doesn’t let him escape suffering; if anything, it makes him even more likely to suffer, which he realizes is exactly what he signed up for.
Jeremiah suffered physically and everyone suffers physically. We all get sick or hurt. Some of us have chronic conditions. Others of us have struggled with illnesses that brought us close to death. Physical suffering is a part of this life with our present, corruptible bodies.
Jeremiah suffered personally because of his family, too, as we all do. Many of us have experienced the pain of divorce or the death of a child or spouse. Others have children or friends who won’t speak to us anymore. We have all felt at times abandoned and alone, adrift and isolated.
There’s a scene in the TV Drama “The Chosen” that’s very powerful where Matthew describes how he feels like a tax collector who’s been rejected by his family and society. He draws a circle in the sand and says it represents the world and everybody in it. Then he draws a dot outside the circle and says, that’s me. That’s how Jeremiah felt and maybe how you do, too.
Publicly, society also has its own troubles. Our politicians, even the so-called Christian ones, often don’t follow God’s word. Instead, they encourage us not to love our neighbors as ourselves but to engage in divisive behavior. They set horrible examples of name-calling and refusing to listen to the other side. They are leading us astray.
Many Christian churches aren’t much better. When people go to church, what do they often find? Too often, they find opinionated, partisan people who care more about convincing newcomers about how wrong they are than about how loved they are.
And so the church and the nation suffer.
Now, if we ended the chapter with verse 22, we’d end without hope. We might feel sorry for ourselves and for Jeremiah, but we’d never learn how to move beyond despair to trusting in the Lord.
See, Jeremiah isn’t a person without hope. He’s not fatalistic—a person who believes all his choices and actions make no difference. His situation hasn’t caused him to think nothing he does matters and life has no meaning.
Instead, Jeremiah casts himself upon the sovereignty of God, which leads him to greater faith. He goes to the Lord in prayer, saying in verse 23,
I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Jeremiah takes comfort in the fact we don’t direct our own steps; God does. It may seem like our wisdom and decisions are the ultimate factor in determining our future, but they’re not. And that’s a good thing.
All of Jeremiah’s physical, personal, and public troubles were under God’s control, and so are ours. There’s nothing that takes place outside the control of God. In other words, our lives are not our own.
Reason with me for a minute from Matthew 10:29 which says,
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
If that’s true, then how could there be anything that happens outside the will of God?
Think about it. This verse isn’t just saying God knows what’s going to happen before it happens, but that God is in control of what happens. See if God isn’t able to control the future, then he isn’t God. If the sparrow makes a decision that extends his life by even one second beyond what God had determined, then who’s really more powerful?
So the lives of sparrows, and our lives aren’t really our own. They belong to God for Him to direct.
Therefore, when we’re physically sick, we ask God to heal us, but according to his will. And if he chooses not to heal, we accept his sovereign decision to use the sickness for our good and His glory.
And regarding personal family troubles, we trust in God’s sovereignty, too. There are just some things we’ll never be able to fix. Sometimes families are so messed up it’s hard to even identify what the problems are, let alone fix them.
But that’s not a reason to despair. It’s a reason to put our hope in God who directs our paths. What does this look like specifically? Trusting in God’s sovereignty starts with acknowledging our own inability.
First, we ask God to forgive us for our part in the dysfunction, to heal us, and give us the ability to forgive the sins of those who have wronged us. Then we commit their personal and family problems into the sovereign arms of the Lord, too, resting on the fact that no matter what happens next is by God’s design.
And we should do this for all of our public problems in society, too. It’s a waste of time to put our ultimate trust in politicians, or in any human being. Sometimes we act as if our nation is in control of its future, but it’s not. God directs our nation’s path and he knows what he’s doing.
If God’s sovereignty includes judgment, then that’s what will happen. If God decides to bless us, then that’s what will happen and it won’t be because we’ve, as a nation all finally come to our senses and started doing God’s will. If this nation is blessed, it’ll be because of God’s mercy. So we should throw ourselves at the mercy of God regarding our nation. That’s what Jeremiah does.
Instead of looking outwardly and blaming everyone else for his problems, Jeremiah looks inwardly and throws himself on God’s mercy.
Jeremiah 10:24 says,
Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.
Instead of seeking God’s correction, we tend to do the opposite. We tend to justify ourselves and correct everyone else.
We tend to see all of our problems as external problems instead of internal ones. What’s wrong with our nation? Politicians, liberals, and deceptive news is the problem. What’s wrong with our church? No one wants to help out. People just aren’t interested in the truth anymore.
But if we think these are the main reasons for our problems, we are thinking contrary to scripture. Jeremiah 17:9 says our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, not everyone else’s heart. So Jeremiah asks God to correct himself, not everyone else.
And there are two kinds of justice mentioned in verse 24: one is destructive and the other is corrective. It’s the corrective kind that Jeremiah asks for.
Jeremiah wants the kind of discipline that a good father gives to his son. He doesn’t want justice that leads to destruction but justice that leads to greater obedience. We could say, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with God’s correction of me.”
Now God would be perfectly within his rights to punish all of humanity, including Jeremiah in His anger with his destructive justice. Sin deserves to be punished and if God gave us what we deserved, we would all be destroyed.
It’s what all enemies of God deserve. So Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 10:25,
Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not, and on the peoples that call not on your name, for they have devoured Jacob; they have devoured him and consumed him, and have laid waste his habitation.
God’s enemies aren’t going to receive merciful, corrective justice. They are going to receive God’s wrath.
The basis for merciful, corrective justice is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And if we aren’t trusting in Christ, then we have no reason to expect anything other than destructive justice.
Isaiah 53:5 says Jesus was “pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” So because Christ suffered and was crushed, those that trust in him don’t have to be.
Physically, Christ suffered when he was whipped, and when he hung on the cross, nails piercing his hands. And He suffered personally, too. He had nowhere to lay his head. His hometown ridiculed him. His friends and family abandoned him. Publicly, political and religious leaders despised and rejected him. They openly mocked him and put him to death.
The wrath of God is what we deserve, but Christ took it upon himself. So the suffering that we receive is no longer a condemnation of us but meant for our good.
Hebrews 12:7-11 tells us what suffering for those who trust in the sovereignty of God means.
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
So let’s rejoice in the fact that our lives are not our own. God directs our paths and the suffering we endure in this life isn’t because God is mad at us, but because he loves us as sons and daughters.