This is part 2 of a series of posts where we’re looking at how the attitudes of the people of ancient Judah prevented them from hearing God’s warnings that could have saved them, as recorded in the book of Jeremiah.
It’s sort of hard to tell if you’re reading Jeremiah straight through because the book isn’t really written in chronological order, but Judah doesn’t go from prosperity to destruction in one day; it’s a process that happens over time. Jerusalem wouldn’t finally fall to Babylon until 587 BC, but almost 20 years before then, Babylon already has its claws deep into Judah. In 609 BC, it’s Babylon that appoints a guy named Jehoiakim to be a puppet king over Israel.
A puppet king is just what it sounds like. The people of Judah maintain the illusion of being a sovereign nation, but Babylon is pulling the strings.
It should have been plain to everyone to see what was happening as things kept getting worse and worse. But isn’t it amazing how you can be the last one to see when trouble is coming your way?
That’s what denial does, and the people of Judah are in denial. It’s not that they don’t see what’s coming, it’s that they won’t see it. And when you want to believe something bad enough, you will find someone who will say what you want to hear.
So Jeremiah was bumping up against these other so-called prophets who were telling people everything was fine. In Jeremiah 14:13-14, Jeremiah cries out to God: “Lord God, the prophets are telling them: ‘You won’t see war or famine, for I will give you lasting peace in this place.’” Then the Lord said to me: ‘The prophets are telling lies in my name. I haven’t sent them. I haven’t commanded them. I haven’t spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, worthless predictions, and deceit they have made up on their own.’”
There are lots of reasons these false prophets were saying these things. Some of them probably hadn’t come to terms with reality themselves. Others were mouthpieces for the king, and they were getting paid to keep people calm. Still, others were probably just trying to give false reassurance. Sometimes when you care about someone, it can be really hard to tell them the truth.
As a parent, I understand that. I remember one time I was flying on a plane with my daughter Cassie when she was about four. We were about to take off when asked me, “Daddy, are we going to crash?” What do you say to that? What I wanted to say was “no, of course we are not going to crash.” But of course, I couldn’t guarantee that.
So I just looked her in the eye and said, “Statistically it’s quite possible we could crash; is there anyone you want to give your toys to if we don’t make it?”
Ok, not really. I’m sure I said something about how airplanes are the safest way to travel and how well-trained pilots are, etc.
I understand the pull to give false reassurances. It can be hard to tell someone what they need to hear when you know it’s not what they want to hear.
Imagine that your boss asks you to give some feedback on a project she’s been piloting. You know that she’s missed some important components that could really jeopardize the project down the line, but you also know she’s really invested emotionally. Do you point out the problems? How’s she going to respond? Or do you just say “it looks great!”
How well do you receive feedback when it comes your way? Do you get defensive? Do you assume people are just out to get you?
Denial is a defense mechanism we use to try to shield ourselves and others from reality. But the more we shut out reality, the more we’ll be shutting out the voice of God in our lives.
Here’s a difficult-but-empowering challenge if you need to overcome denial. Spend some time in prayer and reflection asking God to reveal what’s true in your life that you can’t see because you won’t see it. And if you want to take this challenge to the next level, ask some people who know you well the same question. Just don’t get all defensive when they tell you the truth.