Baruch was Jeremiah’s secretary. He served in assisting Jeremiah when he purchased a field and when a written message needed to be read out to the people of Judah and the king of Judah. His reward? He (and Jeremiah) had to go into hiding for fear of their lives after the king ripped up and burned the Baruch’s scroll containing God’s message. Having served Jeremiah and the Lord faithfully, Baruch cries out in this 45th chapter ‘Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.’ Baruch clearly wondered what God was doing – certainly not giving him an easy life! This raises an important question for us: if there really is a God, does he intervene in this world for our benefit? And if so, do his interventions work at the personal level as Baruch may have wondered. This is a huge question that has exercised my mind for many years, and I’m not at all certain that I have arrived at a full (or even partial) understanding of this, but it is such an important question it cannot be ignored. I will attempt to give some biblical perspectives on this, before we specifically consider Baruch – a man who was faithful to God and yet who was left feeling worn out and without rest. My ‘health warning’ is that in about 3000 words one cannot do justice to this question, but perhaps we can find some biblical truth that will guide our thinking and actions – that’s my hope and intention!
- A continuous intervention
Atheists accuse theists of invoking a god-of-the-gaps attitude to science. They say that with the advancement of science, the gaps that gods fill become increasingly small and that eventually science will do away with the need for god in our explanations of the natural world. They cite as an example Zeus, the god of thunder. When men could not explain the phenomenon of thunder and lightning, they attributed it to the activity of the lightening god, Zeus. But as science can now explain the physics of a lightning storm and the conditions that bring such storms about, the need for Zeus is gone: the god of this gap is made redundant. Atheists content that it is just a matter of time and scientific discovery before all the gaps are closed and the need for God, any god is completely removed. This god-of-the-gaps view however completely misunderstands the true nature of God. The God of the bible is not a small god we need to invoke to explain unexplainable natural phenomena, he is rather the God of the whole universe. He spoke it into being. He is its author and designer – he is not a god needed to explain the gaps, he is the God who explains the whole universe. He is the God of the bits we understand and he is the God of the bits we don’t understand. Having said that, I do wonder if there are gaps in our scientific understanding of the natural world that actually do demand some explanation that involves God.
The so-called ‘standard model’ is the current best understanding of the fundamental particles and forces that make up our universe. This model involves three of the four forces that are needed for a satisfactory explanation of particle physics. The electromagnetic force and the weak and strong interactions. The fourth force is gravity. Scientists seem to agree that whilst this model doesn’t fully and adequately describe ‘the nature of everything’ it certainly comes close and presumably with new insights it will be further refined to account for more and more and perhaps all the natural phenomena we observe in this fundamental branch of science. What I don’t think this model can do however is explain why particles and mass should exert such forces in the first place – but they do. This can be observed, but why do they do this and how is this sustained? I believe that the answer might well be that the God of the universe is not only the creator of the sub-atomic fundamental particles, but he is the one who holds it all together – he is active in his creation. Hebrews chapter 1 indicates that Jesus was the one through whom the universe was made, and he is the one who sustains it by his powerful word.
So, in our exploration of God’s intervention into our world we can say that God continuously intervenes as he upholds and sustains the universe. Without his power it would fall apart!
- Intervention in rulership
It seems that God not only intervenes in the basic upholding-the-universe sense, but also in the arena of rulership of this world. God originally gave a man and a woman authority to rule the world. As a result of their disobedience, that rulership was forfeited to Satan. Since that time, God has set in train a sequence of events that will take back that rulership. A man will once again rule: the man is Jesus Christ. To bring this about, a series of interventions in the affairs of men has taken and is taking place. These interventions centre around Israel and the original promise to Abraham. They involve promises made to Abraham, Moses, David and the people of Israel (for more on this see the introduction to this Jeremiah series). The great intervention that took place on the cross and on resurrection morning was part of this programme and it enabled the spiritual rescue of mankind. We await a day when the rescue of this world will be complete.
As God’s plans unfold for the coming of his great kingdom on earth it seems that he is not completely inactive in the current rulership by the nations. The apostle Paul stated that ‘Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God (Romans 13).’ Think on this the next time you complain about the government! In the next few chapters of Jeremiah, we will cover prophecies given through Jeremiah that relate to specific nations. We’ve noted that amongst the exiles, God was at work with the Babylonians and would use the nations who would take Babylon’s place to bring about his kingdom on earth. In this way we can say that God is at work in our world.
I mention these interventions in human history for completeness sake, but our interest from Jeremiah 45 is focussed on whether God intervenes in our personal lives in an obvious and demonstrable way, and if he does, how this might work.
- Personal intervention
Of course, in many ways the greatest personal intervention that God ever makes is into the lives of believers when they put their trust in him. Prior to that there is an intervention of the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin, righteousness and judgement. What we’re interested here though is the type of interventions after one becomes a believer.
I’ve met many Christians who often speak with significant confidence that ‘God told me to…’ Such statements often involve significant life decisions, for example, ‘God told me to go to India to become a missionary,’ or ‘God told me to move to Scotland.’ On a more mundane level, some people reckon that God intervenes in every small experience they have – they drive into town and unexpectedly discover a parking place just when it seems they would otherwise have to walk a long way to their destination – ‘thank you Lord for providing a space!’ they say. Whilst I certainly don’t want to demean or criticise anyone who feels God has spoken to them in such a clear way (or provided for small and large conveniences), I often wonder just how such people hear God’s voice and how they respond when that parking space is not available! Implicit in their language is the idea that they actually hear God speak specific words. The examples of God speaking specific words to human beings in the bible seem to me to be restricted to specific and particular instances rather than occurrences that we should expect as a normal experience. Perhaps such people who claim that God speaks to them, mean that they felt a desire to take a certain course of action, a course of action that they felt was in keeping with God’s plan for them – that seems reasonable up to a point. I once heard a remarkably simple and yet profound piece of advice on such matters: if you are living a godly life, if you are walking and ordering your life according to the Spirit, if you are showing evidence of this by producing the fruit of the Spirit in your life, then your desires are most probably so well attuned with those of God that you should do whatever you like, because your desires are likely to be synchronised with those of God. I think this makes some sense! In small matters (such as the availability of parking spaces) there is no doubt that Christians maintain a continuous communication with God, whether this counts as intervention is perhaps debatable. But you say, surely God has a specific and particular plan for my life? It seems to me that he most certainly does! If so, what then is God’s plan for our lives and how can we discern it? I suspect that this is simpler than we might think! We have been created for good works. God’s plan is for us to walk in the path that is laid out before us, a path of good works. Ephesians 2:10 says, ‘For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do.’ I envisage this as pathway before us, it’s a pathway that we keep to by keeping in step with the Holy Spirit: the problem is that we often take a wrong turning onto a path of sinful works. Fortunately, it’s well within the scope of God’s eternal capability to re-set the good-work-path before us – there is always a direction and path for us to take whatever the past looks like. God’s intervention is thus somewhat passive in as much as he always provides a direction and pathway for us to take: the pathway of good works. Since we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, he intervenes to provide us the energy and means to stay on this path. Again, I believe that this is somewhat passive on God’s part in the sense that we must take the lead to allow the Holy spirit to feel at home within us. This seems to me to be a far more fertile area for our attention than a perhaps an unhelpful focus on notions of what we should do that may or may not come from God. Follow the path of good works and I suspect that most of the other issues we have will fall into place. Whatever our circumstances we always have a path of good works to follow.
Before we move on from this part of this discussion, we need to address an alternative view of God’s dealings with us as individuals that has become popular recently. This view starts by (correctly) affirming God’s sovereignty. God is indeed sovereign over this world. It’s not hard to discern that this sovereignty is self-limited in the sense that God originally delegated authority to Adam and Eve over both their personal response to God’s instruction (re. the forbidden fruit) as well as their position of rulership over this world. Despite this partly delegated system of sovereignty, some people see God’s sovereignty as absolute over everything without exception. This view has been likened to the whole of our experience and history as a story of which God is the author. The world is his story. We are his characters. God thus bears responsibility for the story of which he is the author. This leads to the rather disturbing deduction from the premise of God’s exhaustive sovereignty: ‘God ordains evil.’ (I will not dignify the author of this statement with a reference). Such a view, no matter how it is dressed up and articulated, is a view that diminishes God, demeans mankind and removes any moral responsibility from our activities – do what you like, you’re just acting out God’s play! This is self-evidently wrong.
To come back to the question of God’s intervention in our lives, we come to Baruch’s statement: ‘Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.’ How can we understand this and how can we learn from it and apply it to our own situation?
Baruch is mentioned in 4 places in the book of Jeremiah. Taking these in chronological order, he is first mentioned as a key participant in the delivery of a written message from the Lord to the people of Judah and to king Jehoiakim. It was around 605 BC when the scroll was read out and burned by king Jehoiakim. After the scroll was read out to the people, both Baruch and Jeremiah were advised to go into hiding.
Some 17 years later, in the 10th year of Zedekiah as the city was under temporary reprieve of the Babylonian siege (and just months before the city fell), Baruch was involved in the legal process that enabled Jeremiah to purchase a field at Anathoth. After the fall of Jerusalem, and the subsequent assassination of governor Gedaliah, both Jeremiah and Baruch were caught up in the exodus to Egypt. When Jeremiah was consulted and gave God’s message that the people must stay in Judah and not go to Egypt, (a message that they did not want to hear), it was Baruch who was blamed. The people accused him of inciting Jeremiah to go against their will. Finally, we have this entire 45th chapter devoted to a message to Baruch.
It has clearly been a long road for Baruch (and Jeremiah) to travel! A period of 17 or 18 years had passed from the time when they had to go into hiding to the time Baruch was accused of plotting against the people. It had been a difficult time for the people of Judah and an extraordinarily difficult time to be a participant in speaking God’s message. It seems that just as God had prepared Jeremiah for this difficult work, so too he had prepared Baruch. When things had started to become really serious (after the scroll had been read out and burned) Baruch had expressed how he felt in no uncertain terms: ‘Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.’ The entry of sin into this world has unquestionably brought about suffering that is universal and indiscriminate. Many Christians believe that since God intervenes in our world, that Christians should experience health, wealth and happiness – but the reality is that for many believers it is because of their belief that they suffer: Baruch certainly seems to view his woes as a direct result of his faithfulness to God. The bible is replete with examples of faithful believers who suffered greatly. Hebrews 11 lists the fate of many who had faith in God: they were tortured, flogged, jeered, chained, imprisoned, killed by stoning, sawn in two, killed by the sword and forced from their homes to live in caves and holes in the ground (Hebrews 11:35-38). So, what did God have to say to Baruch as he struggled with the impact of his faithfulness on his life and wellbeing? Through Jeremiah, God makes three specific statements to Baruch. First, he says ‘ I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the earth (v 4b).’ I believe that the message in this statement is that God could do much more than Baruch realised! God would deal with the people Baruch was fearful of. It seems that Baruch needed to develop a bigger view of God, a God who is not subject to events on earth but who can intervene and change things. You may remember the dreadful experiences that Job went through – he suffered unimaginably, and he too questioned why. The answer for Job was that he needed to understand who God is and how great he is – only then could he understand and cope with his sufferings. Likewise, Baruch could only put his woes into perspective when he understood the greatness of God. This is not easy, but it is not impossible. Second, Baruch was asked a question, in view of God’s greatness, should he (Baruch) seek great things for himself (verse 5). The answer is clearly no: ‘Do not seek them (verse 5b).’ Perhaps part of Baruch’s issue was that he couldn’t cope with suffering because he had too high an opinion of himself. He perhaps wanted a bit of the limelight from Jeremiah, perhaps he felt he was too important to suffer. To cope with suffering, he had to abandon his ambitions for himself. This is the message of Jesus too: ‘36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul (Mark 8)?’ I think we can learn from these two statements to Baruch. Are you suffering? – try to see how great God really is. Understand the pain in the context of the greater schemes of God. Do you think more of yourself than you ought? – don’t seek great things for yourself.
The third and final part of the message to Baruch was I think particular to him and not a generalisable message: ‘For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life (verse 5c).’ Whatever the future may hold – and it would be difficult, God would preserve the life of Baruch. What a great comfort for Baruch! Perhaps there were days when he feared for his life, but he would doubtless remember the word spoken to him by the Lord though Jeremiah. You may suffer, Baruch, you may not be great, there may be difficult days ahead, but I will be with you and will preserve your life. What about us? If we can’t claim this promise, what comfort is there for us? The apostle Paul speaks of present sufferings and how they are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8)! Better days are ahead! Whatever we are going through, we, like Baruch can know that there is God in heaven who will one day fully intervene in this world and bring about days of glory and liberation.