instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, November 13, 2005

You know, He wasn't asking for your advice

The following sign is hanging on the side of my filing cabinet:
Only Genuine Pre-War American and British Whiskeys Served Here
It's from a Dashiell Hammett short story, and when the Continental Op reads sees this in a seedy dive, he passes the time trying to "count how many lies could be found in those nine words." He reaches "four, with promise of more," when the person he's waiting for shows up.

Every now and then, you come across a statement that packs an astonishing amount of something -- lies, maybe, or factual errors, or ways to take offense -- into very few words. Jeremiah 1:6, for example, which immediately follows the LORD telling Jeremiah that before he was born, he was appointed a prophet to the nations:
"Ah, Lord God!" I said, "I know not how to speak; I am too young."
How many mistakes did Jeremiah pack into thirteen words? Let's find five, and leave the promise of more.

He was wrong on the facts. He wasn't too young to be God's prophet.

He was wrong to say no to God. That's just never right.

He was wrong to tell God He had made a mistake. Hint: If there's a difference of opinion between you and God, change your opinion.

He was wrong to explain to God why he wouldn't make a good prophet. Did he think God was unaware of his age or of his speaking skills?

And he was wrong -- and in a big way -- to think that God expected him to be a prophet to the nations according to his own abilities. Jeremiah expressed a Pelagian mindset, that it was by a his own strength and power that a prophet did God's work.

But that term -- "God's work" -- happens to nicely express the orthodox Christian doctrine. It's not merely work done for God; it's work done by God, through the one He chooses to freely choose to do it. Jeremiah's youth and artlessness made him the perfect tool in the LORD's hand:
Say not: I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee: and whatsoever I shall command thee, thou shalt speak. Be not afraid at their presence: for I am with thee to deliver thee.... Behold I have given my words in thy mouth: Lo, I have set thee this day over the nations, and over the kingdoms, to root up, and pull down, and to waste, and to destroy, and to build, and to plant.
It was true of Jeremiah, as it was true of St. Paul, as it is true of each of us: When we are weak, it is then we are strong.