“For thus says the LORD: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the LORD. Both great and small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them or cut himself or make himself bald for them. No one shall break bread for the mourner, to comfort him for the dead, nor shall anyone give him the cup of consolation to drink for his father or his mother. You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will silence in this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride (Jeremiah 16:5–9).
Jeremiah was not to enter two houses: the house of mourning and the house of feasting. Both fasting and feasting with his countrymen were forbidden. The most expected social conventions were off limits—the mourning of a funeral and the mirth of a wedding. Jeremiah was home alone. “Jeremiah,” writes Phil Ryken, “spent his Friday nights at home, alone. There were three things he did not do—go out on dates, send sympathy cards, or sit down to fancy dinners.”
Though these commands as given to Jeremiah are circumstantial and prophetic, there is a principle underneath that is not alien to us today. There is mirth and mourning in which we should not mingle.
Weddings are celebrations. There are “unions,” attempted unions, that we cannot celebrate. When the world tries to make the north ends of two magnets stick, we should not join their jolly madness. We can love the persons involved, but we may not celebrate their attempted union, because nothing is being joined. In such, there is no peace, no covenant, and no mercy (Jeremiah 16:5). There are also times when north and south do click in earthly covenant, and yet, heavenly covenant is maligned. When two folks play like they know Jesus, and want a Christian wedding, but only with a white dress on the surface and not clean hearts by the blood of Christ underneath, the name of Jesus is blasphemed therein. There are unions that we can recognize as legitimate, but not celebrate as Christian.
While there’s still enough sanity for some professing Christians to see we can’t make merry over “same-sex mirage,” mourning with the bereaved seems trickier. This is because we’re looking at the other person instead of ourselves. We don’t go to the north–north wedding because of their sin. We go to the funeral, because dead men are no longer sinning. What we need to ask is if by our presence we are sinning.
Frequently our Lord is as blasphemed in funerals as He is in weddings. We have transitioned from funerals in which we grieve, looking to the blessed hope of the resurrection, to celebrations where we take comfort in the beauty of a life lived. Let’s be honest, the editing skills of funeral slide shows rival that of Hollywood, though not in production, truly in bias. As R.C. Sproul says, what many really believe in is “justification by death.” When the dead are preached into heaven while their souls are surely in hell, we should desire no part in endorsing that message. Problem is, most often we have no idea what that message will be. One of the elders I am honored to serve alongside attends primarily only visitation now for this reason.
Regardless, let us express our condolences, and weep with those who weep, and let us also make clear that the blessed hope is the death and resurrection of Christ. Sometimes we must merely grieve over the dead, and not with the living. That is, we must be clear what our comfort is. Or, to put it yet another way, sometimes we must grieve over the dead and not be comforted with the living when their comfort is a false one. Again, if Christ is not known, there is no peace, no covenant, no mercy.
Understand, all this is a digression from the thrust of Jeremiah 16. The focus isn’t on Jeremiah and his actions, but the word of God thereby. Jeremiah is cut off from the most expected of social conventions to make this word emphatic. This is a severe word of judgment, radically portrayed through the prophet. A judgement is coming on Judah so severe, that not only will the mirth of marriage be silenced, there will not even be a proper lamentation and burial for the dead.
God’s commands to his prophet may seem hard, but is the judgment portrayed thereby that is truly unbearable. Sinner, if you don’t know Christ, you stand under such judgment. It is because Christians love you that they don’t want you to think otherwise. It is because we are earnest for you to know His love that we speak of His wrath. Saints, may we not confuse by our presence those who have no peace, no covenant love, and no mercy into thinking that they do. Let us love them more and better than that.