Why? (Jeremiah 5:1–19)

“And when your people say, ‘Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours’ ” (Jeremiah 5:19).

Names have been referred to as “handles” and though I’m not completely certain of all the etymology involved, I’d bet it is largely because names help us to pick things up. It is peculiar how naming a thing can prove so useful in understanding it. This shouldn’t be mystifying, for naming a thing is as old as Adam, and once named, conversation may ensue. So let me give you a handle by which to pick up this chapter: theodicy. This chapter presents a theodicy, that is, it argues to vindicate the goodness of God. A theodicy answers the questions that begin, “How can God be good if… ?” This particular theodicy is a justification of God’s justice; it demonstrates that God’s justice is just. Now we’re talking huh?

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The answer given here to the question “Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?” is not one that is universal but particular. And yet, ultimately, the answer given is the answer, for all suffering is foundationally rooted in sin. The judgment Judah faces here is the one we all deserve.

The real puzzle to turn over in your noodle is not a theodicy, but an anthropodicy. It is not the goodness of God we should question but the goodness of man. We ask “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but we have started with a false premise. The real dilemma is “Why do good things happen to bad people?” B.B. Warfield explains, “Righteous men amid the evils of earth seek a theodicy—they want a justification of God; sinners do not need a theodicy—all too clear to them is the reason of their sufferings—they want a consolation, a justification from God. …we are sinners, and what hope have we save in a God who is gracious rather than merely just?”

So why do good things happen to bad people? We might begin by answering that God is patient, long-suffering, and benevolent, but this answer is not enough. This is a big question and a larger foundation must underly such patience. To see what it is, let’s return to ponder that question we discarded, and see if it might help us now. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” One theologian answered, “That only happened once, and He volunteered.” Peter tells us that “Christ… suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). The real dilemma of God’s dealing with man was not “How could he judge?”, but “How could he show mercy?” The answer is that grace comes in the Christ who quenched the fury of God’s anger against sin so that we might be declared just.

Sinner, you are not righteous. Shall He not punish (5:7–9)? Do not delude yourself with words of wind, but hear these words of fire against your soul (5:12–14). And yet, know this, there is hope. Instead of expected justice God extends surprising grace. This grace is found in Jesus Christ who was everything we are not—righteous, and was reckoned everything we were—sinful, bearing everything we deserve—the wrath of God.

Repent of your sins, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved. Then you will ask, not in agony, but in bliss? “Why has YHWH our God done all these things to us?” “Why has He blessed and loved us so?” And the answer you will love to hear and give again and again for all eternity is this, “Jesus!”

A Drink from Brooks: The Devil Didn’t Make You Do It

“The whole frame of man is out of frame. The understanding is dark, the will cross, the memory slippery, the affections crooked, the conscience corrupted, the tongue poisoned, and the heart wholly evil, only evil, and continually evil. Should God chain up Satan, and give him no liberty to tempt or entice people to vanity or folly, yet they could not but sin against him, by reason of that cursed nature that is in them, that will still be a-provoking them to those sins that will provoke and stir up the anger of God against them (Jude 15, 16). Satan has only a persuading sleight, not an enforcing might. He may tempt us—but without ourselves he cannot conquer us; he may entice us—but without ourselves he cannot hurt us. Our hearts carry the greatest guilt in every sin. Satan can never undo a man without himself; but a man may easily undo himself without Satan. Satan can only present the golden cup—but he has no power to force us to drink the poison that is in the cup; he can only present to us the glory of the world, he cannot force us to fall down and worship him, to enjoy the world; he can only spread his snares, he has no power to force us to walk in the midst of his snares. Therefore do the devil so much right, as not to excuse yourselves, by your accusing him, and laying the load upon him, that you should lay upon your own hearts.”  —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices

The Tools You Use Tell Me What You’re Building

“WHEREAS, Concerns have been raised by some evangelicals over the use of frameworks such as critical race theory and intersectionality; and

WHEREAS, Critical race theory is a set of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to function in society, and intersectionality is the study of how different personal characteristics overlap and inform one’s experience… be it…

RESOLVED, That critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks…” —Resolution 9, On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality

The permitted is certain to be utilized. This is what frightens me.

Yes, God’s common grace pervades the world and grows in unexpected soils, but this is no reason to promote the nutritional value of radioactive apples grown in Chernobyl. Some fields devoid of saving grace are ripe with common grace. I don’t think that’s where we’re gleaning. While Paul did quote a few pagans, he didn’t commend Stoicism or Epicureanism themselves as useful tools. I may have quoted Freud once but I’m certain I’ve never commended Freudian psychoanalysis. Critical race theory has tools within it but is itself is a theory, not a tool. Trying to use it as a tool is like trying to use abortion as a tool for life. Intersectionality as a tool for racial reconciliation is about as valuable as using the morning-after pill as a prenatal vitamin. Wrecking balls make poor hammers when you want to drive nails and build something good.

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But what about demo work? Racism, injustice, and tyranny are evils, but critical race theory and intersectionality are not the tools the saints should use to tear them down. When you use the devil’s tools to tear down the devil’s works, you’re still playing in his toolshed. Taking over a racist Nazi regime with a revolutionary Communist one is not the answer. Instead of destroying strongholds, we’ve built new ones and now labeled them safe playgrounds, with the qualifying fine print of playing by the rules of Scripture of course. We’ve traded our DeWalt tools for those of Playskool because we’ve been told they’re “safe” and cannot be used for oppression. This is just a ploy of Big Brother to keep potential usurpers under control. Also, these toy tools are likely coated in toxic paint.

Some tools are custom made for evil jobs such that the tool cannot be separated from the designated task. Further, to seek some redeeming use of such tools is folly when we already have that through which God is building up a new creation. He has promised to supply the power, we need only pick up the tool. Our task is simply to be faithful. The gospel is the tool. The Word is sufficient. If you want an analytical tool, it pierces and divides. If you want to build unity, it’ll do it and it alone. Why buy a dusty pagan stone axe when you’ve got a chain saw?

If I am told that such tools can help me in using or applying the tool, yes, perhaps the abortionist may have some information that can help a doctor deliver a baby. Common grace can indeed grow in such places. But the worldview ain’t that tool and that is what it seems I’m being permitted to pick up. I don’t feel as though I’m being asked to sniff the flower of God’s common grace so much as the manure pile it grew out of. The Word itself is the best lens by which to read both the Word and the world. When I breathe in the Word, I notice more clearly the stink of the world and am better able to spot and appreciate a flower when I find one growing there.

True, God’s big book of natural revelation does help in understanding His small book of special revelation, but it’s one thing to pick up a flower, another to pick up forceps. Look at the build date and the manufacturer. Creation was made good by our good God. Intersectionality was crafted by man post-fall (for some background on its forging, listen to this episode of Al Mohler’s The Briefing). It is an idol. I don’t need to learn from Baal to understand how YHWH liberates his people. A study of Baal may help me understand sinners, and in this way, what God is communicating to them; it might serve as a dark backdrop, contrasting God’s truth with this world’s lies; it cannot, however, in itself, serve as a tool in the way of righteousness.

Where others see permissible “analytical tools” I see a hammer and sickle: a hammer that cannot build but only tear down the church and a sickle that can only gather weeds and not wheat. Let us lay them down and take up again the sword of the Word.

A Drink from Brooks: Sin is a Straight Flush, but Faith Is a Royal Flush

“Sin always dies most where faith lives most. The most believing soul is the most mortified soul. Ah! sinner, remember this, there is no way on earth effectually to be rid of the guilt, filth, and power of sin, but by believing in a Saviour. It is not resolving, it is not complaining, it is not mourning, but believing, that will make thee divinely victorious over that body of sin that to this day is too strong for thee, and that will certainly be thy ruin, if it be not ruined by a hand of faith.” —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices

A Drink from Brooks: The Devil’s Logic

“To argue from mercy to sinful liberty, is the devil’s logic, and such logicians do ever walk as upon a mine of gunpowder ready to be blown up. No such soul can ever avert or avoid the wrath of God. This is wickedness at the height, for a man to be very bad, because God is very good. A worse spirit than this is not in hell. Ah, Lord, doth not wrath, yea, the greatest wrath, lie at this man’s door? Are not the strongest chains of darkness prepared for such a soul ? To sin against mercy is to sin against humanity. It is bestial; nay, it is worse. To render good for evil is divine, to render good for good is human, to render evil for evil is brutish; but to render evil for good is devilish; and from this evil deliver my soul, O God.” —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices

A Drink from the Brooks: Avoid Sparkles

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“It is impossible for that man to get the conquest of sin, that plays and sports with the occasions of sin. God will not remove the temptation, except you turn from the occasion. It is a just and righteous thing with God, that he should fall into the pit, that will adventure to dance upon the brink of the pit, and that he should be a slave to sin, that will not flee from the occasions of sin. As long as there is fuel in our hearts for a temptation, we cannot be secure. He that hath gunpowder about him had need keep far enough off from sparkles. To rush upon the occasions of sin, is both to tempt ourselves, and to tempt Satan to tempt our souls. It is very rare that any soul plays with the occasions of sin, but that soul is ensnared by sin. It is seldom that God keeps that soul from the acts of sin, that will not keep off from the occasions of sin. He that adventures upon the occasions of sin is as he that would quench the fire with oil, which is a fuel to maintain it, and increase it.” —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices

Ridiculous Farmers (Galatians 6:6–10)

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“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” —Galatians 6:7–8

One of humanity’s highest sins is that of being a ridiculous farmer. The principle of sowing and reaping was sown in to the soil of creation at creation. It cannot be undone.

“And God said ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11–12).

You cannot sow peppers and reap watermelons. We try to mock God, but the joke ends up on us. But are we really so foolish? Yes! Men think you can plant a monkey and reap a man. Men think that if you sow a boy in just the right soil you can grow a woman. God is not mocked. It is man who looks ridiculous. A straight face doesn’t alter who the joke is on.

You cannot sow sin and reap life. God told Adam that in the day he ate of the forbidden tree he would surely die. We’ve been trying to eat what is forbidden ever since, expecting health and happiness. All sin is an attempted mockery of God. Ralph Venning quotes John Bunyan on this point before adding his own riff.

“In short, sin is the dare of God’s justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power, the contempt of his love, as one writer prettily expresses this ugly thing. We may go on and say, it is the upbraiding of his providence (Psalm 50), the scoff of his promise (2 Peter 3:3-4), the reproach of his wisdom (Isaiah 29:16). And as is said of the Man of Sin (i.e. who is made up of sin) it opposes and exalts itself above all that is called God (and above all that God is called), so that it as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing itself as if it were God (2 Thessalonians 2. 4).”

Churches are full of such attempted mockery because they are full of sin yet full of promises of “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace. The punchline will one day come, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” The seed packet may say “church,” but it is not God’s Word that is being sown. The tares may look like the wheat early on, but the proof is in the fruit; and though their beginnings look similar, their ends couldn’t be more different.

If all you sow are seeds of sin in the field of the flesh, don’t expect to partake of the inheritance of the saints growing in the fertile soil of the new earth where the weeds of sin are no more.