Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet because he ministered during times that triggered painful emotions. But Jeremiah was only reflecting the emotions of the God he represented. Jeremiah’s anger reflected God’s anger. Jeremiah’s anguish was God’s anguish. God’s people, Israel and Judah, constantly rebelled against Him. Their rebellion is pictured as a betrayal of lovers. In her youth, Israel was like a new bride in love with her husband (Jer. 2:2). But she had a wandering eye and adopted a seductive lifestyle as she pursued other lovers. As the betrayed lover, God questioned His people as a perplexed lover would question their unfaithful spouse: “What do you find wrong with Me?” (Jer. 2:5) Perhaps more insulting is that, though God was Israel’s Father, they were saying to trees, “You are my father,” and to stones, “You gave birth to me.” (Jer. 2:27) Think about a young adult saying to his father who conceived him, loved him, provided for him, and protected him, “You’re not my dad. That rock is. It gave me life. It loved me. It provided for and protected me.” How insulting and how sad.
Perhaps what is most amazing about the dynamics of this toxic relationship is that God even cares. Why would God subject Himself to this? Why would He waste emotion on people who treated Him this way? Anger is exhausting. Sorrow is draining. Why would God subject Himself to anger and grief over people who just did not care, people who continually insulted Him, and when confronted by Him said, “What did I do?” (Jer. 2:35)
The easy answer to the why question is, “Because God loves.” His love is unfailing and limitless for all who come under its shade. His love is fiercely loyal and, therefore, it is protective. To mess with those whom God loves, as He does Israel, is worse than messing with a mamma bear’s cubs, even if those cubs are misbehaving. Yes, the easy answer is God’s covenantal love.
But the easy answer is not a simple answer. It is not a simple matter to contemplate a God who is absolutely sovereign, possessing both the authority and the power to do whatever He chooses to do, with accountability to no one, choosing to subject Himself to the painful emotions provoked by mere POCs (products of creation) like us. God doe not have to be angry, does He? God does not have to grieve, does He? God could simply choose to not care, could He not? I don’t grieve when I see a dead skunk in the road. I turn up my nose and think, “Good riddance.” A smashed spider or a dead snake are reasons to rejoice. Even on a human level, one human being to another, I find it easy for people’s own self-destruction to not bother me — it’s their own fault. But these things bother God. They bother Him enough to stir anger, feel sorrow, and shed tears. (Jer. 8:21-22; 14:17-18)
Does God have to act this way? Is He held hostage by His own emotions? Or can He just turn them on and off at will, thus making the whole emotional reaction thing a bit of a sham? I think the simplest answer is to say that God always thinks, feels, and acts in ways consistent with the totality of who He is. He does not simply choose to turn on the anger emotion or the grief emotion and then turn it off. God actually gets angry and He really does grieve. He is reacting in a manner consistent with all that He is as God.
Such reaction on God’s part is not the same as me saying, after some emotional outburst, “That’s just the way I am,” which is my feeble attempt to justify my reaction. That statement is more of an excuse than a confession. It is an admission of being held hostage by my emotions, and thus unable to control myself. The reason this response is not acceptable for me is because “the way I am,” isn’t necessarily good or right. “The way I am” is often wrong. “The way I am” still manifests brokenness. “The way I am” is still being repaired by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. This is not true of God. The way God is, is perfect. Nothing about Him needs to change because to change perfection is to produce imperfection. God gets angry, not because anger controls Him, but because anger is His perfect reaction to the filth and degradation of sin. God grieves, not because grief has taken Him over, but because grief is the perfect reaction flowing from a perfect God over people He loves, who reject Him and choose self-destructive ways instead. He grieves, knowing what they are missing. He is angered by that which stands in their way and robs them of Him.
God is not like the human sovereign who dares not express any emotion in public. He is not emotionally detached from us. God is passionate: passionately angry, passionately loving, and passionately sorrowing. Why? Because He genuinely cares. But we should not make ourselves the ultimate object of such passionate emotions, as if we hold the power to trigger God’s emotions. Above all, God is passionate for His own glory. Anyone who robs that glory from Him will feel the blaze of His anger, but it will be sprinkled with the tears of His grief. God knows the only place I can be who I was made to be, the only place I can be satisfied, and the only place I can find the delight my soul longs for is in Him. Whatever keeps me from that will be the object of His anger and the reason for His grief.
What a God!