In the Pits

Well, I’m stuck here.

I’m sunk.

In the mud at the bottom of the well.

I’m clagged in up to my knees.

My world is just the slimy sensation of mud past my ankles, and, when I look up, a circle of blue sky broken by the bucket and its winder. If they leave me here much longer, I’ll have to sit down. Then I’ll be even more in the mud. And I am tired. Tired of this job the Lord Yahweh has given me. Tired of being the only one who can see clearly. Tired of being squeezed between God and the vacillating politicians. A bit of faith would vaccinate them against vacillation. You see, even here in this well, in this not-well, I can’t resist a pun.

If those wavering weevils don’t pull me out, I’ll starve. A quick sword thrust through the old heart would have been better. The king did shrug his royal shoulders and say, “Do what you like with Jeremiah.” That was an open invitation to illegal execution, and they’ve chosen the slow sleigh.

And you want to know about faith under pressure. I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask right now. You’ve heard Abraham’s story. He had no doubts, despite his impossible choice: his faith or his son. He’s a much better example than I am right now.

I see things too straight. That’s always been my problem.

It always would have been much better for me to have said, “Everything’s all right. Assyria won’t attack. We don’t need to worry. The boiling jug in the north won’t bubble over onto us. I am a prophet. God will look after us.” I would have lost fewer friends, particularly in high places,with that line. But I didn’t. And Assyria did attack, just as I saw it would have to. And I had to restrain myself from gloating, “Told you so! God told you so!”

I would have been much more popular if I talked about how invincible Judah was, instead of cracking pots to get through their heads that if Assyria didn’t smash us to pot-shards, then Babylon would crack our pots together. A hostile super-power is still a hostile super-power even when it changes its name and moves to a new capital.

So they call me a crackpot, because they don’t like to hear the obvious truth. So obvious that I can say without a doubt “this is what the Lord Yahweh says”. It’s what the Lord says because it’s self-evidently true. Like the Italians say, “tru-issimo”. They didn’t get used to my sense of humour either.

Specially when I told them they stunk like a pair of underpants stuck in the brackish shallows of the Jordan. At least they listened to that. When I told them they were as a ripe as summer-fruit past its prime time, they thought it was a compliment. But the rotten underpants gave them something to think about.

So I don’t think I can tell you much about faith under pressure.

Maybe you should ask some of the peaceful Christians in the new nation of South Sudan at the moment.

The ones who don’t follow the party line of blessing the war.

The ones who want only peace and justice and shudder at the idea of killing the Muslim fighters from the north.

What can they do? Practically nothing. Yet they go on in faith, squeezed every way, under huge pressure, looking unflinchingly to their little circle of the truth, because they know that they are told mostly lies. They know much more than I do about faith under pressure.

I just know what I see. I just know I have to tell it the way I see it. That’s the only way I can be true to that vocation I first felt at 18 years old in Anathoth. And now, thirty years later, I’ve got to the end of the story. The end of the story of telling it the way you see it. You end up squelching in ankle-deep mud with a distant view of blue sky. I think I’ll sit down and make it waist-deep mud. There’s a pun in that, I think. You end up wasted.

Do I think Yahweh will get me out of this sodden well? Maybe. That’s his business. Mine has been to keep things straight in my mind. To see clearly and to speak clearly. To speak conspicuously anyway. To speak so people will take notice of what I see. Faith is faith whether it’s under pressure or not, because faith is about seeing things the way they really are.

I’m a prophet, but I can’t see the future. I can see only a small circle of blue sky. And I’ll pin my hopes on that. It’s not much but it’s still there.

Whether I’m pulled out of here, or whether I die in this mud, Jerusalem will still fall. Zedekiah will still have his eyes put out with hissing hot irons: not that that poor and weak King has ever used them to see straight. What God has proposed will happen.

But as for me, my faith is reduced to a blue circle. That’s all I can really say to you when you ask about faith under pressure. To keep your eyes on what is. Not what you’d like to be, not what you think is the case, not what someone else tells you to believe, but on what really is. And even if your field of vision is reduced to just a tiny blue circle, keep your eyes on that. Not on the tunnel of darkness, nor on the slopping mud, just on what you know is right.

It’s a funny thing about faith. If you have faith in Christ you have faith in everything. If you put your faith in the living God, then you have faith in the future of the whole Universe. But if your own experience of faith in God gets squeezed smaller and smaller, then so does your faith in a good outcome for the Universe. Your blue circle gets tighter and tinier. But remember, that’s where reality is. In your blue circle.

One last pun. Some people say, if you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. Just now, I’d prefer to say it like this. If you’re at the end of your rope, start climbing.

The only place a rope will come from is that small blue circle. Faith under pressure is prepared to climb out.

*****

The Contemporary English Version tells the story of Jeremiah being put into the well.

*****

Questions for reflection or group discussion.

Reflect on the people you know who like word play. Is there any connection between having fun with words and spiritual health? Might there be?

Is it possible to find happiness and yet be aware of the world’s suffering? Under what circumstances?

What circumstances make you feel imprisoned? And how have you pushed back the bars of that imprisonment?

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