+ Dr. Carly Crouch introduces Jeremiah, exploring the freedom it demonstrates we have to bring our anger and protests before God.
Carly Crouch is the David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament in Fuller’s School of Theology. Her research focuses on the intersection of theology, ethics, and community identities, with a historical focus on the social and intellectual world of ancient Israel and a contemporary interest in the relevance of this work for 21st century ethics.
“Jeremiah’s not afraid to be angry at God, to call out God, to call out to God, and to protest at what God has been asking Jeremiah to do.” – Carly Crouch
I can’t decide whether it’s all of the books of the OT that come out of periods of upheaval and turmoil or if it’s just the ones that I’m interested in. I mean this quarter, I actually had a student say, “I was about seven years old, and I said to my mum I was angry at God. And my mum says you’re not allowed to be angry at God. Like you can’t, no, you can’t say that.” And I’m like, “Oh no, it’s very biblical to be angry at God, don’t worry.”
I’m Dr. Carly Crouch, and I am David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament here at Fuller Seminary. I’m reflecting today on the Book of Jeremiah.
The Book of Jeremiah comes to us from the final decades of the seventh century and the first few decades of the sixth century of the centuries before Christ. It arises out of a period of great turmoil and great upheaval, great uncertainty.
Now the Book of Jeremiah, if you try to sit down and read it, is quite difficult. It doesn’t read like a normal sort of book, that we might be used to. It contains poetry, that is full of judgment and condemnation of the people for their failures of social justice, their falling away from God. It contains poetry of hope, looking forward to restoration after judgment, in chapters 30 and 31. It contains oracles against foreign nations. It contains sermons that go on about and explicate the various sins of the people and explain why it is that judgment is looming. And it also contains a number of stories about the Prophet Jeremiah. About the prophet’s interactions with the kings of Judah, the prophet’s interaction with other prophets who proclaim a different word, and the various struggles of Jeremiah as he attempts to convey the will of God.
How do we make sense of these various different kinds of material and the fact that the Book of Jeremiah seems, at times, very chaotic and disordered? There have been a number of different ways of trying to think about how to make sense of this book. But one of the most interesting ways of thinking about the book’s disorder and feelings of chaos recently has been to reflect on the way that this disorder, this chaotic feeling, might reflect the response of the community to various kinds of upheaval and trauma. Recovery from trauma includes trying to get to grips with and trying to incorporate traumatic events and experiences into a coherent story.
And so, in particular, one of the very interesting things that scholars have been thinking about with the Book of Jeremiah recently, is how the book’s particular interest in Jeremiah’s life compared to, for example, Isaiah or Amos about whom we know relatively little. The Book of Jeremiah is exceptionally interested in Jeremiah’s life, and we’ve been reflecting on how that reflects an attempt to use the life of Jeremiah and telling the story of the life of Jeremiah as a way of beginning to make sense of what has happened to the people.
Jeremiah’s suffering is one of the things that I think speaks to many people as we read this particular part of Scripture. Jeremiah suffers greatly as he tries to fulfill the call that he has received from God. And one of the striking things about Jeremiah’s struggle is that Jeremiah is not afraid to be angry at God—to call out God, to call out to God, and to protest at what God has has been asking Jeremiah to do and the consequences that that has brought out—brought about—in his life.
Jeremiah is of sorts a license to protest, a license to be angry at God. And it seems to me, quite often in our churches and our communities, we’re rather afraid to be angry at God. We’re afraid to cry out to God in protest of what we are suffering. And the Book of Jeremiah, the figure of Jeremiah, the Prophet Jeremiah, like, for example, the Book of Job and the Book of Psalms, gives us the space and the ability to express even our darkest and deepest distress to God, who is able to absorb all of those things.