Jeremiah cried out: I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. “Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.”
But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonour will never be forgotten.
O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.
Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.
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Sometimes I struggle with the Old Testament. My research and experience tell me that plenty of people do. Over the years, lots of ink has been spilled in an effort to reconcile “Old Testament God” with “New Testament God,” so you’ll be grateful to know I’m not going to add to that. I’d like to reflect, instead, on the idea of the Lord as a warrior.
In the first reading for this Sunday, Jeremiah describes the Lord in military terms and, strikingly, as a dread warrior. He cries out to the Lord, “Let me see your retribution upon them [my persecutors].” He concludes by thanking the Lord for delivering “the needy from the hands of evildoers.”
As someone who grew up with the mantra “God is love,” at first blush I found the idea of God as a presence to be dreaded and a smiter of evildoers to be unsettling — jarring even. Aren’t we all beloved children of God — even the persecutors? Don’t we sing, “Come into my heart, Lord?” Why would I want to invite a dread-inspiring smiter into my heart? This reading just did not sit well with everything I’ve come to understand God to be.
So, I prayed about it. I reflected on how God has acted in my life, and I came to some unexpected conclusions.
God is a warrior who fights for the salvation of our souls. Persecutors do dread God and suffer retribution. God will deliver us from evil. And, in all these things, God is Love. In the end, I came to believe everything Jeremiah said, but I had to first look at his words through a different lens.
We do, in life, have human enemies, of one sort or another. Our enemies are children of a God who loves them and will always love them, but they are free to separate themselves from God, embrace evil and even destroy themselves in pursuit of what is not Love.
However, I have other enemies — pride, fear, resentment, indifference — and I know that, with God’s strength, I will overcome my enemies because “true love drives out all fear.” Because God is pure love, enemies such as pride, fear, and resentment cannot coexist with God. The more I open my life to God, who is Love, the less room there will be for my enemies and the weaker will be their grasp on me.
And so, although my perspective is different from that of Jeremiah, I arrive at the same place, saying, “Praise you, Lord!” I too am content to move through the world and trust in God. Will I see my enemies again? Yes, of course I will. But the Lord will fight alongside me, or for me if I am too weak; the Lord will persecute fear, the enemy of my soul; and the Lord will always deliver me to a place of peace.