When grace gets the upper hand

Then all the Jews returned out of all places where they had been driven, and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah, and gathered wine and summer fruit in abundance. (Jeremiah 40.12)

Most of us tend to think in terms of either/or. Good times or bad times. Profits or losses. Success or failure. Of course, in some areas of life either/or really are your only options. You can afford to move house, or you can’t. You passed that important exam or you didn’t.

However, sometimes our options aren’t that stark. Sometimes success or failure isn’t so clear.

Jeremiah the prophet lived in an era which for his country was one of almost unmitigated disaster. A settled refusal to obey the Lord over many generations, manifesting itself in idolatry and all sorts of social injustice, finally came to a head in 587 B.C. when Jerusalem fell into the hands of the Babylonians. It was disastrous. The temple was destroyed. The city walls were broken down. And some of the nation’s most talented people were dragged into exile in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, installed Gedaliah, a Jew, as governor of the broken nation.

From the outside looking in, and to the eyes of many of those Jews left behind in Judah, the whole set-up was completely unsatisfactory – indeed Gedaliah was eventually assassinated, plunging Judah into further chaos.

Nevertheless, despite all the upheavel and uncertainty, God began to bless His people. Those who had emigrated to surrounding nations for whatever reason, began to return back home. Abundant harvests became the order of the day once again. Despite the political instability and God’s obvious displeasure with Judah, grace was found in the midst of judgment.

There was a new order. The old, familiar order of things had passed away and its glory would only be rediscovered and surpassed in Christ. There would be no return to empire. And it was pointless to try to restore what was lost or resist the new order of things. Why? Because, hard as it was to accept, this was actually God’s will. But within this new framework God would continue to bless His people and provide for them and teach them how to relate their faith to an unfamiliar, pagan world.

In some ways the church in the West has arrived at a similar juncture in its history. We are faced with a world and a political order which is not only unsympathetic to our moral and spiritual outlook, but is sometimes, perhaps increasingly so, downright hostile.

The same can be true for us as individuals. Developments at work or at home – or even in church! – can leave us feeling that we have entered territory that is way off the map in terms of our experience.

We can take some encouragement from this scripture in Jeremiah: even in times of great uncertainty and insecurity God provides grace. He is still relentless in His love. He is still only too ready to restore. And He will forever prove Himself to be a faithful God in whom we can trust. With God, grace and difficulty aren’t either/ors. They can both coexist. Thankfully, His grace is there to ensure that difficulty doesn’t need to get the upper hand.