Gathering – Jeremiah 31:1-14

He who scattered …will gather.

Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgements and unfathomable His ways!  (Romans 11:33)

It is beyond our natural understanding, and perhaps even our willingness to understand, that he who gathers also scatters and he who tears also mends. My personalized restatement of this verse would be …

Oh God, how many times have you befuddled me, where all I can say is, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high I cannot attain to it?”

I confess that I have come to this place in both bitterness and peace. I can trace the bitterness to one of the least constructive things I have done in my life; demanding an understanding of the unfathomable. What does this trail of human reasoning look like? Example: God is ever-present, all-powerful and all-knowing. This places him at the scene of every incident. If God knew about it and could have prevented it, is he not either the agent of cause or an accessory with unsearchable motives?

My stumbling heart asked, “Why was this permitted?” There may have even been a little, “Why was I not consulted” going on as well. Did this happen because God – the Judge was exacting payment for someones’s sin? Is God incompetent? Indifferent? Did the devil just overpower him and steal something right out from his, or the angel’s noses? Perhaps there are so many lives, personal involvement is impossible. This is the type of reasoning, I’m talking about. Even though I was stumbling beneath the burden of the imponderable, in Christ, I was fortunatelty stumbling forward. In God’s economy, even futile speculation do not go to waste.

I’m not proud of this but there was something demanding in me – “Why do bad things happen to undeserving, unwitting, good people?!” If you have shopped in the theological marketplace you have discovered there are many vendors, hawking their dogma as to why-God-this and why-God-that. Dogma stays in great demand because it contributes to the myth that we can manage our lives with knowledge – control things with what we now understand. Not knowing on the other hand, forces us to have faith – which feels out of control.

When you encounter these vendors, without a tear or a question, marketing their confident assertions regarding the unsearchable, may I suggest that you politely, yet quickly, say, “No thank you.” Knowledge and understanding are not without value but they will never replace simple childlike faith. Faith connects us to eternity. Knowledge is helpful but faith is essential.

A question. Could God gather us if we were not scattered? Could he mend us if we were not torn? Could we appreciate his drawing if we had not been driven? Would we appreciate his presence if we had not tasted of his absence?

Our hearts can become paralyzed in their capacity to believe by the mountain of apparent evidence we collect and file away which raise questions about God’s motivations. We are left, in our inquiries to the bad that happens, with the notion there is something incompatible here with God’s love, care and power. Even though we rarely make a formal indictment against him, our hearts can nurse questions about his love and/or his competence. I suspect many a busy, noisy life has been crafted, both consciously and sub-consciously, to squelch this line of thinking. This is why slowing down, retreating and opening up to God is so essential to our spiritual formation. Warning: weeping and supplication may follow. Do not fear – they are better allies than certainty.

With weeping they shall come, and by supplication I will lead them; I will make them walk by streams of water, on a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I am a Father

As to the why we have been scattered, torn or driven, we are frequently uncertain. For our sake, he spares us from explanations. When I ultimately stand before God, I don’t want an angelic file-search to reveal I have open files, where God is still a person of interest. If open files are to be found, I want one of them to be my Mystery file – where I store my unanswered questions. The other file can be my large and getting-larger file called God’s Goodness – where I have been recording my observations of his goodness.

While God’s ways and judgements may be unsearchable, his nature and personality are discoverable and knowable. We come to know him experientially, situation-by-situation, face-to-face. We can gain experiential heart-assuarnce that all his dealings with us are motivated by an incomprehensibly strong love. He desires that learn to rest progressively in his love. Here is a hard thing though – it may require some tearing. It may involve a sense of separation. But, if we acknowledge his nearness, we will discover we have somehow been drawn into God’s heart and even mended in the midst of our pain and disorientation. We will discover a Father-filter has been installed which will aid us in our filing. We will stumble far less when we are resting in his love. This is where we will discover the songs, the shouts and the praises that are so becoming and native to his sons and daughters.

Father, we do not understand pain. It is disorienting and incomprehensible. Grant us hearts that hold you harmless. Grant that we would not stumble over Jesus as a rock of offense. May we not be offended at your eternally focused, love-driven dealings with our hearts. Amen.

Suggestion for those who are extra hungry: Read the passage again. Acknowledging God’s presence, ask yourself about your files and filing system. Pray along with David and the others who have become satisfied with God’s goodness …

Search me Oh God and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.


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