Their Problems And Ours
EasyEnglish Bible Studies that show that God is sufficient whatever the problem
Jeremiah: The Problem Of Doubt
by Raymond Brown, M.A., M.Th., Ph.D.
translated into EasyEnglish by Mary Read
A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.
Many great people in the Old Testament (the first part of the Bible) had hard times. There were times when there was *spiritual darkness in their lives. They had doubts. They felt desperate. So, their *spiritual experience was not always easy. This fact should encourage us all.
The same thing happens to most *believers today, at some time. They, too, have periods of *spiritual darkness. We saw this in our study of Elijah. It was true about Jeremiah, the *prophet, too. Then there was John the Baptist. (A Baptist is a man who puts people into water to show that they want to obey God.) (Read Matthew 11:2-3 and Luke 7:18-23.) They all had times of confusion. They suffered personal pain and despair. Things affected these 3 men very much. They were very aware of their great tasks from God too.
There is an interesting event here. The *Lord Jesus asked his special friends a question. It was this. ‘Who do people say that I am?’ They had an answer for him. ‘Some say that you are Elijah. Other people say that you are Jeremiah. Or they say that you are one of the *prophets.’ (Read Matthew 16:14.) People recognised some things about Jesus. Here was another lonely *prophet. But he was a hero. He was ready to suffer for his *faith too.
Of course, we know more now. They only saw part of the truth. He was much more than a *prophet. God’s only Son had come. He wanted to help people with their very great needs. He came to die on the cross. He wanted to save us all from the results our *sins.
At that time, most people could not understand all this. They could not know the full purpose of Christ’s task on earth. But they did recognise something special in Jesus. He was a *prophet. He cared about people. But he was willing to be completely alone, if necessary. He had a perfect message. It came from God. It was for everybody. He knew what God wanted for his own life too. These things were what mattered most to him.
Jesus always had a special friendship with his Father, God. There was nothing to spoil it. It was like this all the time of his service on earth. But even Jesus knew moments of darkness in his life.
First there was the Garden of Gethsemane. He realised the awful type of death that he would suffer. He knew that the physical pain would be terrible. But he knew, too, that there was something much worse. He would carry our *sins while he was on that cross. In the Garden, he prayed to his Father. He said, ‘If it is possible, do not let me suffer this death.’ (Read Luke 22:41-46.)
On the cross, Jesus cried out in terrible pain. He said, ‘My God, my God, why have you left me alone?’ (Mark 15:34.) How awful to feel that God is no longer near you. How terrible not to know why he is leaving you alone. You seem to have no comfort or support. This must be the worst of all life’s experiences.
So, we see that other people in the Bible had doubts. Jeremiah was not the only one. Many people think that Jeremiah is special. They think that he was the greatest *prophet in the Old Testament (the first part of the Bible). His messages had special value in two ways. First, he understood how very great God is. His messages to the people show this.
Then there is his personal life of prayer. The passages about this have a name. They are ‘The Confessions of Jeremiah’ (what he confessed). These passages need special study. They are: Jeremiah 11:18-23; 12:1-6; 15:10-21; 17:9-10, 14-18; 18:18-23 and 20:7-18. Here, he is not standing in front of the people.
No, he is on his knees in front of God. He is crying out to God in awful pain and despair. He cannot understand his suffering. His messages are a failure. Then, worst of all, God himself does not seem to care about him. In these passages, Jeremiah seems very real. They show a loyal man of God. He was in a powerful struggle with his enemies. There were enemies both inside and outside himself. When he had talked with God, he could speak to the people. He could give strong messages from God, without fear.
God called him to a very difficult task. He had a hard message to give. He had to declare it very clearly. He must tell his people that punishment would come soon (1:14-17). He realised just how awful that punishment would be. This was because of his type of character. Things affected him very much. He also had a strong imagination. (Read 4:19-31.) He saw clearly things that were going to happen soon. It was just as if he was reporting events as they happened.
The *prophet’s message was not popular. The society that he gave it to was content. The people were happy with things as they were. They felt that their religion made them safe. This made his task much harder.
There were many false *prophets at that time. The people liked them. The false *prophets said that there was nothing wrong. So there was no reason for the people to be anxious. (Read Jeremiah 5:11-14, 30-31 and 6:13-14.) God’s people tried to make themselves feel better too. The ceremonies of their religion made them feel safe. They did not understand an important fact. It is this. If there is no true love for God, ceremonies have no meaning.
H. L. Ellison is a writer. He wrote a book about the *prophets. Its title is: ‘Men Spoke from God’. He shows how much the people were trusting in things. They trusted in:
· the *Temple (Jeremiah 7:1-4)
· *sacrifices (Jeremiah 7:21-22)
· the *Holy Box (Jeremiah 3:16)
· *circumcision (Jeremiah 9:25, 26)
· the *Law (Jeremiah 8:8, 9. Read Exodus 20.)
All these things were very important. But something could make them of no use at all. It was a lack of love for God and other people (Jeremiah 7:5-6).
So, Jeremiah had a very hard task. He did not want to do it (1:6-8; 20:7-10). I have given a brief account of the nation’s *spiritual state. This makes it easier to understand the *prophet’s problems.
But we will now study one part of his trouble. Jeremiah had the problem of doubt.
He never doubted that God was real. But at times he seemed to doubt the *sovereignty of God. God had called him into his service. At times, he seemed to feel that God was unfair. It was unfair of God to call him into his service (20:7-8). He wished that he had never come into the world. This happened more than once (15:10; 20:14-18).
This shows that he did not understand how God rules over people. God’s rule involves practical things. It also has *spiritual importance. At times, Jeremiah had a glimpse of these great truths. One of these times is in 17:12. The *prophet speaks about God’s throne (king’s special chair).
Someone may doubt that God exists. Then something else has usually happened first. That person may have had other serious doubts. The doubts have been about what God is like. They may have been about how God acts. The person may have asked, ‘Why does this trouble happen to me?’ This is a natural question. But it can lead him to doubt God’s *sovereignty. He may ask if God is really ruling.
We must turn to the Bible for immediate help. It will stop doubt when it begins. If we fail to do this, the devil will use our lack of certainty. He will use it to take away all our certainties. We will doubt God’s *sovereignty. We will also even doubt that God exists. We begin with: ‘Perhaps God does not really care.’ We end with: ‘Perhaps God is not really there.’
So, we must put our confidence in God’s Word, the Bible. ‘Our *Lord God rules. He is All-Powerful.’ (Read Revelation 19:6.) Here is a wonderful fact. This fact does not change. It comforts us. It remains true whatever happens. It remains true whatever I feel like. God has not stopped being king. The events in my life are not just accidents. God rules! Things do not happen by chance.
We must notice something else.
We must be honest about this. Doubt often comes when we have let other matters control our lives. This means that we have lost our trust in God’s *sovereignty. So, the difficulties in life seem to be very great. Then we begin to doubt God’s love. We may even doubt that he exists.
This happened in Jeremiah’s life. At the beginning of his work for God, he was very brave. He accused the people of turning away from God. God was like ‘a supply of fresh water’ (2:13). Now, he is feeling full of despair. He cries to God. He says: ‘*Lord, I think that you have changed. You are like a supply of water that became dry. So it stopped’ (15:18). Maybe there were some serious weaknesses in the *prophet’s *spiritual life. These things would allow doubts to enter his mind. They would lead to a lack of certainty.
His work for God seemed to be a complete failure. (Read 7:25-28 and 13:15-17.) He would have been so happy if people had returned to the *Lord. But this did not happen.
There is an important lesson for us here. God may give us some work to do for him. We must be loyal and continue the work whatever happens. This is more important than success. When results are most important to us, we are in danger. We can stop wanting to bring honour to God. We can start trying to prove our own worth instead.
This often follows on from disappointment. God has not worked in the way that we hoped or planned. Jeremiah felt like this (20:7-8).
This was the next wrong thing. The *prophet felt very miserable. Nobody seemed to know or care about his feelings. He was very, very lonely. (Read 15:17-18; 16:2-9.) He suffered more stress than most of us will ever have. Perhaps this stress caused his character to become weaker.
It was a terrible time for the *prophet. But he went back to have true *faith in God. He realised that God could supply all his needs. His experience can help us. We may have doubts too. We might have a similar difficulty. There are things that we can do. The *prophet’s experience shows important truths. We will now study these.
Like Jeremiah, we must:
(Jeremiah 12:3; 15:19 and 17:9-10 are important here.) All Jeremiah’s thoughts were about the nation. He had no fear as he spoke about their lack of reality. He forgot that he must be completely sincere in his own life.
The *prophet was concentrating on the people’s ‘return’ to God. But God said to him: ‘If you return, then you can serve me’ (15:4). Jeremiah was full of pain and despair. God comes to him. He reminds the *prophet about his job. He must help people to change. He must not change and become like the people (15:19b).
We need something else too. We should be ready to:
Read Jeremiah 15:20 with 1:18, 19.) God had spoken some great words to Jeremiah. He did this at the beginning of the *prophet’s work. Jeremiah’s job was going to be very hard. But God encouraged him. Later, Jeremiah had doubts. He was suffering very much. Then God spoke the same words to him again.
You may have forgotten a great promise of God. It helped you very much in the past. So, listen to the same Bible words again. Trust his great promises. He will give you strength and protection. Best of all, God himself will always be with you.
When we have doubts, we should do something else too. We should:
(We may feel that God has gone away from us.) At first, this is a matter of discipline. Read Jeremiah 17:5-13. Here Jeremiah realises something. He sees that it is foolish to go to anyone else for help. Do not let your heart go away from the *Lord. This is how Jeremiah would say it. You might feel that God has left you. But he has not. Let your hope be in the *Lord (17:7). Your life may be hard. Then look to him (17:8). Trust in his promises. They do not change. (Read 1 Peter 1:4; Joshua 21:45; 23:14; 1 Kings 8:56 and Numbers 23:19.)
Then we must:
(Read Jeremiah 17:12.) Perhaps your life is not what you wanted it to be. But what God wants is always best. Remember Romans 8:28. Something happens when we recognise his *sovereignty. We are sure about God again (17:13). Jeremiah had stopped believing and trusting God. Now he starts to trust God again. The *Lord really is like ‘a supply of fresh water’. (Read Jeremiah 15:18 and 2:13.) God is not like ‘the supply that became dry. So it stopped.’
When you have doubts, you must:
You must do this even when you do not feel like it. You may not be sure that prayer is worthwhile. But you must still pray. This is the great thing about Jeremiah. Even at his worst times, he continued to pray. Sometimes it seemed that he only complained to God. But he continued to pray. Nothing stopped him. (Read Jeremiah 12:1-3; 15:15; 17:14 and 20:7-12.) Jeremiah prayed clearly and in an honest way.
Often, we are sad about our difficulties, problems and doubts. But we keep our feelings out of our prayers. Then these things become like a wall between us and God. Someone has said: ‘To deal with doubt you must let it get out!’
Believe that a better time will come. You will be able to believe God again. Until that time, prove the worth of the faith that you once had. We can all know that God will never leave us.
Believers might be having hard times. They might not be sure that they
can rely on God now. And so they might not be sure that they can trust
him still. How would you begin to encourage and to support a believer
who is like that?
2. Jeremiah did not want to be a *prophet. He obeyed God. But he was not successful. A believer might feel sad, like Jeremiah felt sad. It might seem that he or she had failed.
How would you explain a similar result today?
3. Jeremiah was a very sensitive man. God could have chosen someone who was tougher, stronger and healthier. Amos was one example of someone like that (Amos 7:10-17.)
Why do you think that God gave such a difficult mission to Jeremiah?
4. The Bible records many of Jeremiah’s personal and private prayers. (Read Jeremiah 10:23-25; 12:1-6; 15:10-21; 17:12-18; 20:7-18 and 32:16-25.) Why do you think that these prayers are in the Bible for us? Do they give a message to a believer who is having hard times? What is it?
5. You might meet a Christian worker who is feeling sad. Perhaps there is not much encouragement or success in their work. How might you use Jeremiah’s story to remind them about the things that matter most?
God said that he would be Jeremiah’s strong protection (Jeremiah
1:18-19; 15:20). But this sensitive man knew that there were plots to
kill him (Jeremiah 11:18-1). And many other bad things happened to him.
• His enemies opposed him in a fierce way (Jeremiah 18:18).
• They beat him and
• they locked his hands and his feet in large blocks of wood (Jeremiah 20:1-2).
• They laughed at him (Jeremiah 20:7-10).
• They threatened to kill him (Jeremiah 26:1-24).
• They put him in prison (Jeremiah 37:16).
• And they threw him into a deep, muddy pit (Jeremiah 38: 1-13).
God had given him a wonderful promise (Jeremiah 15:20). So why did he have such terrible experiences?
2. The people trusted in visible signs of their faith. Read again those passages about this (Jeremiah 3:16; 7:1-6, 21-23; 8:8-9 and 9:25-26). The signs should point to the meaning of certain things. So why do people rely on the signs instead of on their meaning?
For example, in some societies, people turn to religion on special occasions. This could be at birth, for marriage, and at death. But they do not think about religion or about God for the rest of life. How can we explain that? There is a desire for the things of God at these special times. But we want people to have something that is more significant, and something that will last. So how can we use these desires in the best way?
3. Jeremiah expressed his anger in some of his prayers (Jeremiah 18:19-23 for example). Perhaps it was only on rare occasions. And we can understand it completely. People treated him very badly. They rejected him, and he was very lonely. Also, these things happened to him for many years. But why is the story of such terrible pain still there for us to read? What can we learn from prayers that are like this? And how might Jesus want us to think and to pray in a different way? (Read Luke 6:27-28; 23:34; Acts 7:60; Romans12:14 and 1 Peter 2:23).
believer ~ a person who knows and accepts the *Lord Jesus Christ; this is another name for a Christian.
circumcision ~ a ceremony for every boy *Jew on day 8 of his life (Genesis 17:9-14).
faith ~ complete trust in God; total confidence in God; an attitude to God that leads to action; read Romans 4, Hebrews 11 and James 2; ‘the faith’ means Christian beliefs.
Holy Box ~ a special box; inside were stones with God’s laws on them; read Deuteronomy 10:1-5.
Jew(s) ~ person or people from the Jewish nation; God chose them to be his special people (read Deuteronomy 7:6-8); our Old Testament (the first part of the Bible) gives their history; their language is Hebrew; Jesus was a Jew.
Law ~ the Law usually refers to the first 4 books in our Bible; Moses wrote them.
Lord ~ a name that we call God or Jesus; we call God or Jesus Lord when we do what they say.
prophet ~ a person who gives special messages from God.
sacrifice ~ a ceremony; something that a person gives to God; in Old Testament times (the first part of the Bible), it was usually an animal; this may be to say ‘Sorry’ or ‘Thank-you’; it can also mean something that is hard to do or to give; read 1 Samuel 15:22 and Psalm 51:17.
sin ~ when someone does not reach God’s standards; when someone does not obey God’s rules; the word can speak about a state (Genesis 3; Romans 3:23; 5:12-17); it can also be an act; so, the word can be a noun or a verb.
sovereignty ~ God’s absolute right to rule everything in the way that he chooses; but God always does things that fit with who he is; he will never act in any other way; so we can trust his sovereignty completely.
spiritual ~ holy; the part of life that is to do with the things of God. It speaks about things that start with God; so they fit with his nature; it speaks about people; when someone pleases God, he is *spiritual; it speaks about attitudes too; our attitudes should be the same as God’s.
temple ~ the *Jews’ special building for God; it was in Jerusalem; the enemy destroyed it in AD 70; since that time, *Jews’ special buildings are called synagogues.
LINGUISTIC CHECKER: Sue Hunter
© 1999-2014, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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