“So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men,
what makes you think you can race against horses?
And if you can’t keep your wits during times of calm,
what’s going to happen when troubles break loose
like the Jordan in flood? Jeremiah 12:5 (The Message Bible)
We were made for a greater race than a simple footrace against other people. We were destined to outrun horses! I fear that many Christians settle for an innocuous faith over an infectious one. They’re in a race, but it’s the kiddy race, the one for toddler disciples. They have no vision for a God-sized contest against horses. They’re so “worn out” by the easy race that they can’t imagine anything more challenging.
What exactly was Jeremiah’s so-called easy footrace? The prophet had just complained about how the good people usually lose while the bad people win more than their share. His were not simply theoretical musings, his nation was falling apart, he had been thrown in prison, lowered into a deep muddy cistern, and beat up for doing what God told him to do. To put it mildly, for somebody who was trying to do good, things weren’t working out the way he’d expected. God was more distant and his promises less reliable than the prophet thought, and it was wearing him out thinking about it. Can you relate?
Wrestling with doubts
I think we could agree that Jeremiah was a great man of faith and courage. So, what’s he doing struggling with the disparity between what God says and how things actually play out? Do people of faith agonize over the world’s absurdity and say, “What the heck?!”? (This is the PG version. My mother taught me not to use those other words, especially in public.) Do good Christians sometimes say, “God, I want to talk to you about the way you roll. You just don’t seem just to me! Bad people get good stuff and good people (like me) get the shaft! What’s up with that?” (More PG language for the more sensitive souls among you.) Are these things you’d expect to come out of the mouth of a person of faith?
Well, they came out of Jeremiah’s mouth, so feel free to say, “Right on, Jeremiah! Thanks for saying what we sometimes feel like saying! We’ve thought these things but were afraid to express them! So, why do the bad people win and the good people lose?”
I propose that struggles with faith are a human thing, even a healthy human thing. They keep us rooted in reality. Our heads may be in heaven but our feet are still in the dirt. Brene´Brown said, “As a lover of all things certain, I wanted faith to work like an epidural; to numb the pain of vulnerability. As it turned out, my faith ended up being more like a midwife – a nurturing partner who leans into the discomfort with me and whispers ‘push’ and ‘breathe’”
So, I’m a fan of the kind of faith that’s willing to wrestle with apparent inconsistencies between what God says and what I see.
But… You knew that was coming, right? But… in this case, God pushes back on his prophet’s rant. He didn’t mind the rant, but apparently he didn’t want it to become Jeremiah’s default position. He compared his philosophical conundrum to a foot race with men in contrast to a much bigger challenge – racing against horses!
The Lord is pretty secure and can handle our tantrums. In fact, he might even prefer them sometimes. I’m sure he prefers doubts to a disingenuous spirituality that pretends it doesn’t care about faith’s paradoxes. What he doesn’t prefer is when our philosophical struggles consume us and we succumb to a prolonged spiritual hibernation. He doesn’t like it when our demands for a more manageable universe paralyze us.
He invites us to ask the hard questions and grapple with the apparent absurdity of the ways of the Creator with his creation. But stressing out to figure it all out is an endless circular track from which there is no exit. That’s the race that a lot of people run and are worn out by it. In order to be real, we have to deal with our doubts, otherwise ours is the faith is constructed of shallow platitudes and perpetual grins. It’s not wrong to wonder or culpable to question, but we can’t allow ourselves to be interminably consumed by our doubts and fail to race with horses.
Safe country saints and worn out Christians
“If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan? Jeremiah 12:5 (NIV)
“All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” Acts 17:21
A lot of comfy Western world Christians sequester themselves in a “safe country” where people languish in philosophical meandering and never get out to do anything. They expend all their energy in Safeville trying to figure out the unfigurable and have nothing left in order to do the harder thing. If bipeds wear you out there’s no way you can race with quadrupeds!
They’re not wearied from doing the work of the Lord. They haven’t given their all to love God or sacrificially serve their neighbors. They’re worn out from running the lesser race of spiritual speculation and philosophical banter. They’re too exhausted from running the endless cycle of doubt and cynicism to run the greater race, which actually makes the world a better place.
So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners… Hebrews 12 (The Message Bible)
We all have a number of disconcerting unresolved issues about God and the perplexing world we live in. We want everything to line up with logic and for every problem to conclude with a rational solution. And God and his world are frustratingly uncooperative with that agenda.
Before they could take any action to improve the blind man’s life, the disciples had to know: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9) Whose fault is this? Who’s to blame? They’d rather moralize and philosophize than actually get their hands dirty and do something. They were more interested in diagnosing a problem than dealing with it in some practical way. “They’re like theological buzzards,” wrote Oswald Chambers, “sitting on their perch of massive tradition, preening their ruffled feathers and croaking their eloquent platitudes.”
The twelve postponed the solution with deliberation – “Who sinned? Whose fault is this?” It’s a favorite Christian delay tactic to avoid any sense of responsibility to actually help someone in need. We tend to be more concerned about the theological problem than our neighbor’s problem. We set up committees to analyze issues to death and often never get around to doing anything about them.
Fortunately Jesus came to solve problems, not study them. He simply spit and made the man see. Instead of being preoccupied with the theoretical, we should be asking the Lord, “What would you have me do?”
Everyone on the scene except Jesus seemed content to dissect or debate about the blind man. Like these people, instead of doing something about the problems and pains of people around us. we’re often stuck in the “paralysis of our analysis.” “It’s getting dark!” Jesus said, “Do you want to talk about it, or do you want to fix it?”
I’ve heard preachers theorize about this scene and the connection between the mud and the miracle. But my guess is that there wasn’t one. Maybe he just wanted us to know that our faulting and figuring are simply foolish. I’d be willing to bet that he used saliva-soaked mud to heal the man in order to take the whole scene even further out of the realm of the theoretical. “There’s no figuring this out. Spit is all I need to get it done! Not everything makes sense.”
I’m a huge fan of a thinking brand of Christianity that can ask God and his Bible any question. God gave us a brain and he is secure enough to let us use it to ask all our hard questions as long as our questioning doesn’t keep us from running with horses! Our musing should lead to mission and not be an excuse to avoid it.
In a purely human footrace is easy because it’s a humanly achievable competition – mano-a-mano. The runners are all on equal ground. Racing against horses? Now that’s a fool’s errand! It’s not humanly possible to run with horses and win, at least not without some help. Apart from supernatural power we can no more win a race with horses than Elijah could outrun Ahab’s chariot. Wait, he did win that one!
If you want to enter God’s greater race you have to die to the easy and be raised to do the impossible. Don’t settle for the easy race when you can run a greater one and win! “Si se puede!”
“With my God I can scale any wall” (Psalm 18:29) – and beat any horse in a footrace!