“Faith invades the muddle; it does not eliminate it…clarities come from adventuring deep into the mysteries of God’s will and love, not by cautiously managing and moralizing.”
This is a lembas-bread-book for a couple of reasons. It’s dense and nourishing, which means it’s good. However, it’s dense and nourishing, which means it’s best absorbed in small bites. That’s mostly why it took me so long to finish this relatively short book. The other reason is the subject – this book is Eugene Peterson’s reflection on the life of the prophet Jeremiah – a person surrounded by impending calamity his whole life. Very appropriate for 2020. I should note that I read the second edition, which Peterson published in 2009 when he was in his late 70s. (He died about ten years later.)
Some of the key lessons I learned:
PERSISTENCE. Peterson spends a lot of time exploring the context of Jeremiah’s life, and how he spent decades preaching a message that fell on deaf ears. Trying to do good over a long period of time in the face of futility is a useful lesson for those of us feeling overwhelmed in 2020.
BE HERE NOW. Just as Jeremiah didn’t give up, he stayed engaged in sharing his prophetic message with his culture. He didn’t check out or only look to some future time. He very much existed in the middle of things and amongst real people. He was present, not apart from the world.
AMBIGUITY IS NORMAL. Jeremiah never got a clear win. It wasn’t outwardly obvious that his life was worthwhile. In fact, contemporary histories indicate he was killed by his own people after exile to Egypt. Is that success? Was it worth it? It’s a good reminder that we can’t always know the true fruits of our labor. A sub-piece of this is Peterson’s exploration of the mystery and otherness of God. While Jeremiah was close to God, he could never fully know the plans of God or why things unfolded as they did. Jeremiah doubted himself and God but never left. Something kept him going.
In a weird way, this book reminded me of some of Leonard Cohen’s later collections of poems – someone looking back on their lives and trying to make sense of it all. What I appreciated most from Peterson was his humble honesty and his comfort with ambiguity in his old age. Nonetheless, he seemed more convicted than ever that a life of faith was worthwhile.