Hope for those who strive to end abuse

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn -“Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” – Google Art Project (source)

        Several of this week’s readings from the Lectionary-based Bible study have resonated deeply upon my heart, particularly several from Jeremiah and an essay about his faith. As I read about Jeremiah’s struggles, a slideshow of faces played within my mind; each face is a victim of abuse within the church who is now so diligently working toward reform for the future good of the faithful.

        Jeremiah was known as “the weeping prophet,” because “he shed many tears during the dark and despairing time of the Babylonian captivity.” [1] Though buoyed by God’s promises, Jeremiah’s ordeals reveal that “the task of following the divine word can be overwhelming, leading him into long stretches of darkness and doubt.” [2] Though a prophet of God with intimate awareness of God’s presence, Jeremiah struggled with discouragement, sorrow, despair, and hopelessness. In Jeremiah 20:14-18, the prophet Jeremiah recorded one such moment with honesty and raw emotion, cursing the day of his birth:

     Cursed be the day

on which I was born!

The day when my mother bore me,

let it not be blessed!

     Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father,

“A son is born to you,”

making him very glad.

     Let that man be like the cities

that the LORD overthrew without pity;

let him hear a cry in the morning

and an alarm at noon,

     because he did not kill me in the womb;

so my mother would have been my grave,

and her womb forever great.

     Why did I come out from the womb

to see toil and sorrow,

and spend my days in shame?


Michelangelo Buonarroti 1475 – 1564
“The Prophet Jeremiah” (source)

 “The book of Jeremiah confronts head-on the Babylonian assault on Jerusalem. The final reduction of the city to rubble and the deportation and flight of its inhabitants are presented in Jeremiah as a tragic reversal brought about by the divine hand on a people once beloved of their God. The leveling of Jerusalem to the ground is inevitable because of the people’s persistent failings yet not predestined from the beginning.” [3] God’s forgiveness and mercy were available, if only His people would repent, turn from their wickedness, and return to God. A steady focus is kept on God’s divine reckoning with a people who [4]:

  • “have distanced themselves from God (Jer 2:5–6)”;
  • “live in fundamental ignorance of God’s ways and justice (Jer 5:1, 4–5; 8:6–7)”; 
  • “and do each other harm (Jer 5:26–28; cf. 2:34; 6:13–14; 7:6–10; 8:10–12; 9:1–8).”

        This Old Testament book “forcefully communicate[s] a sense of divine justice as having an irrefutable, almost physical, force: ‘Their houses are as full of treachery as a bird-cage is full of birds; / Therefore they grow powerful and rich, fat and sleek. / They pass over wicked deeds; justice they do not defend / By advancing the claim of the orphan, or judging the cause of the poor / Shall I not punish these things?—oracle of the Lord / on a nation such as this shall I not take vengeance?’ (Jer 5:27–29; cf. Jer 9:6–8).” [5] Infused within the book’s prophetic words are “divine indignation and determination to redress wrong.” [6]

“The wrath of the Lord brims up within me. I am weary of holding it in.”

Prophet Jeremiah, in Jer 6:11
Marc Chagall, “Jeremiah in the cistern” (source)

        Though He is merciful, God too was “weary of relenting” (Jer 15:6), “of holding back anger from those who do not see the harm they do: ‘They have treated lightly the injury to the daughter of my people: / ‘Peace, peace!” they say, though there is no peace. / They have acted shamefully; they have done abominable things, yet they are not at all ashamed, they do not know how to blush’ (Jer 8:11–12; 6:14–15). Their sin [had] become a way of seeing and discerning, ‘engraved with a diamond point upon the tablets of their hearts’ (Jer 17:1; cf. Hos 5: 4).” [7]

        Are branches of the church today functioning as a microcosm of ancient Judah during Jeremiah’s time, the Valley of Slaughter? [See “Valley of Slaughter” in the midday reading and lesson.] By turning a blind eye to spiritual and sexual abuse, are God’s people sacrificing their sons and daughter, not to Baal or Molek but to the gods of lust, perversion, and destruction? 

[The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah:] They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded–nor did it enter my mind–that they should do such a detestable thing, to cause Judah to sin.


        For victims of abuse within the church, their struggles for justice and reform are often daunting. In the Southern Baptist Convention, for example, progress towards real reform appears to be slow or sometimes even imperceptible. When it comes to redressing harms done and protecting the innocent, those in positions of power appear to be either indifferent, dispassionate and dismissive, and appear to be feigning concern for the victims. Often, the very existence and gravity of abuse seems to be entirely unrecognized. 

        Jeremiah too struggled to get anyone to pay attention to him, often sustaining attacks upon his very personhood and reputation, as the following excerpt from Friday’s study illustrates. Yet, in Jeremiah’s example, victims and advocates can find hope [8]:

Some might consider Jeremiah the model of faithfulness, while others might think of him as an example of failure and futility. He served as God’s prophet for over 40 years, yet the rulers and the people of Judah did not listen to his warnings. Jeremiah was put in prison, thrown into a well, and taken to Egypt against his will. He was not allowed to marry. He was rejected by his friends, neighbors, family, false priests and prophets, and kings. Jeremiah stood alone in his call for the people to repent and turn to God. he warned them time and time again of their impending punishment. And even though much of what he prophesied came true during his ministry, the people and the leaders continued to ignore him.

Yet through all the hardship and humiliation he was forced to endure, Jeremiah remained obedient and faithful to God. Although at first he questioned God’s calling, once he accepted his position he became a model of perseverance and devotion. After decades of enduring abuse, threats, and outright indifference, Jeremiah could easily have turned his back and walked away, but he knew that was exactly the problem God had told him to warn the people about. The people had turned away from God’s will, and Jeremiah was not about to do the same. Some may look back at his ministry and consider it a failure because the people did not respond to his call. In reality, his life was a glorious success because Jeremiah remained faithful to his God. he may not have seen immediate results, but his struggle to obey God in a world that had turned wholesale away from its Creator has inspired generations of believers.

“Weeping of Jeremiah”
Marc Chagall (source)

        Jeremiah persevered. He not only prophesied for the Lord while he was living, he also left us a written record of his work and God’s word, effecting countless generations. Despite the setbacks, victims and advocates of abuse today, like Jeremiah, are creating a record of their work for God’s Church. In so doing they are laying the foundation for all future efforts to address and safeguard against the evils of abuse within our midst, leaving a record that will guide future generations. 

        As Habakkuk teaches us, “the person who judges only in light of the immediate present sees no justice in the world… The righteous, or wise, person, in contrast, trusts that [God’s] justice will prevail.” [9] Even though justice is not apparent, we can trust in the Lord with hope for the future.

I conclude with Psalm 62:5-12:

For God alone my soul waits in silence,

for my hope is from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation,

my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my deliverance and my honor;

my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;

pour out your heart before him;

God is a refuge for us.    Selah

Those of low estate are but a breath,

those of high estate are a delusion;

in the balances they go up;

they are together lighter than a breath.

Put no confidence in extortion,

and set no vain hopes on robbery;

if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

Once God has spoken;

twice have I heard this:

that power belongs to God,

and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.

For you repay to all

according to their work.


[1] Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology (2008). Jeremiah. In The Orthodox study Bible (p. 1142). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[2] Senior, D., Collins, J. J., & Getty-Sullivan, M. A. (2016). Jeremiah. In The Catholic study Bible: The New American Bible, revised edition, translated from the original languages with critical use of all the ancient sources (Third ed., p. 659). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[3] Ibid. 2, P. 658

[4] Ibid. 2, P 663

[5] Ibid. 2, P 663

[6] Ibid. 2, P 663

[7] Ibid. 2, P 664

[8] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (2007). Jeremiah. In NKJV study Bible: New King James Version (Second ed., p. 1150). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[9] Senior, D., Collins, J. J., & Getty-Sullivan, M. A. (2016). Habakkuk. In The Catholic study Bible: The New American Bible, revised edition, translated from the original languages with critical use of all the ancient sources (Third ed., p. 781). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Leave a Reply