Only God can speak of sin, guilt, and judgement, yet in the same breath speak so tenderly of His past deeds and love that He has steadfastly shown to His people. Only He can chastise yet speak of covenant acts that binds Him even still to His people who have long-since forsaken the very same covenant. This is His severe mercy—for some will hear the words and truly repent. Others will still reject them. Despite it all—His still speaks to us.
It is a battle for those of us in Christ to read these words and not feel struck down in condemnation. Conviction is one thing. Knowing that we too are quick to run to others lovers is one thing; or that we too forsake freedom for slavery—that’s conviction. Condemnation throws us on the ground and says we cannot get up. It pins us down in those moments and says, twisting the Word for his own scheme, How will you now return to Him?
But God’s conviction is gentle and it is leading us somewhere else, beyond the borders of our guilt and shame. God’s conviction moves you forward in kindness and love. Condemnation gets you stuck in a place of fear and disappointment that bars grace from your mind. Condemnation joins Judah’s words in Jeremiah 3.25—It is hopeless, for I have loved foreigners, and after them I will go.” Condemnation says you should get out but can’t; conviction says you have already been set free—now walk in it.
My conviction from this passage a few days ago comes from 3.31-32. Judah is wrestling with God, refusing to call their sin what it is; refusing to be corrected by Him or His messengers. So He sends them a new word, a word they must behold, see with their own eyes—
Have I been a wilderness to Israel?
a land of thick darkness?
Why then do my people say,
“We are free, we will come to You no more!”
Can a virgin forget her ornaments,
or a bride her attire?
Yet My people have forgotten me days without number.
Beside these words I wrote—Check your heart that you are not pinning your circumstances on the Lord.
These last few months have been a storm, a wilderness storm that would lift for a moment before crashing down again. I’ve been hurt, disappointed, and confused—visionless—again and again and again. Yet this fresh conviction shows me that it’s been so very hard to reorient myself here, now, because I’ve taken my circumstances, which God has allowed for limitless good and beautiful purposes, and I’ve made them out to be His character.
If my life is such a wilderness,
then God Himself must be just as wild, unknowable, and distant.
If I walk in such darkness,
then God must have some shadowy heart, unfeeling, and mocking my tears.
What lies. What incredible lies we allow ourselves to believe.
God is knowable, approachable, good, and yes—wild. But not like a wilderness because of the abundance of goodness that is in Him towards me. Even in the wilderness, abundance can come because He is the fountain of living waters and the One who turns “a desert land into pools of water and a parched land into springs of water” (Psalm 107.35-36)
God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. He is the light of life itself. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no shadow or shifting due to change. He will never get tired of catching my tears because He cares for me. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; the light has come and the darkness cannot overcome it! Even in my own mind—the light will not be overcome (1 John 1.5; John 1.4-5, 9; James 1.17; 1 Peter 5.7; Isaiah 9.2).
These are His truths. This is His character. This is who He is. Our circumstances do not define us; neither do they define Him. Neither can they silence Him—He still speaks to us: to convict, not to condemn.