Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, "Oh that my head were a spring of water, my eyes a fountain of tears . . ."
Jeremiah says, “Oh that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my people. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there nothing that can heal us? Is there no physician there?” Jeremiah pleads.
Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet . . . and this passage sure gives us good reason to believe that. Jeremiah says that because his people are hurt, he is hurt. Because they are in pain, he is in pain. Because they are in tears, he is in tears.
I could not help but understand this passage in a bit of a new way once my wife and I had small children in our home. It just sort of goes with the territory I think when you have an infant and a toddler. One of them is crying because they are hungry. One of them is crying because they are tired. And then there is the crying that comes from learning to walk.
Both of our children in learning how to walk would first learn to sit up on their own, then my daughter started crawling backward, then forward. They learned to walk while we held their hands, and then walking while holding on to walls and furniture, and then finally learning to stand up without holding on to a thing.
That is something I am not so good at now days and I dare say many of you have to hold on to something in order to stand up. Both children have come a long way, running and jumping their way around our home and outside of it.
But part of what happens as you are learning to walk, learning that you can move around and that your world is so much larger than a crib, part of what naturally happens . . . is that you fall.
Maybe one of them would underestimate what they were holding on to. I remember once when my daughter was standing at a window and she must have thought that she would be stable by holding on to the curtain. But then that curtain just won’t do it. So she fell; she hit her head; and she cried.
That is just what happens sometimes right? We hold on to something that maybe on second thought we shouldn’t have . . . something that just isn’t strong enough . . . something that is not good for holding on to. And in some real ways that is what happened with the children of Israel.
Even though we call them the children of Israel because they are literally the children of a man who was called Israel, who used to be called Jacob, it does just seem right some of the time to call them children because that is what they remind us of, when we read some of these stories from the Hebrew Scriptures. But then again, we can act like children too.
So what happens around our home, with us and the children in our home, is that despite an abundance of smiles and laughs, giggles, and all that good stuff too, what happens is that there are inevitably tears too. And sometimes there is just nothing we can do about it.
It seems like all our best efforts, trying to figure out whether they need a nap or a bottle, a snack or a toy, to be rocked or just to be held, sometimes there is just nothing to be done.
It is a pretty helpless feeling for a parent . . . to have a child cry . . . or God forbid to have both of them crying at the same time and not be able to do a thing about it. It is the kind of moment where you too want to cry out for some sort of doctor, some sort of balm or medicine, somebody, somewhere please tell me . . . isn’t there anything that can make this suffering stop?!?
That is what we want to know. That is what Jeremiah wanted to know.
And I have been telling you about some pretty mundane situations, things that happen in many homes, with many families, . . . but the devastation that Jeremiah was to witness was serious.
Jeremiah lived in the southern kingdom, what was then called the kingdom of Judah just before it fell to a foreign power, just before everything would be destroyed and so many of the people would be living in exile. They would be enslaved. These children of Israel would have everything that they knew and loved . . . just utterly destroyed.
Life would never be the same.
And how could it? And as Jeremiah talks with God, and as God talks with Jeremiah and tells him to talk with the people, Jeremiah begins to tell the people that they have turned from God, that they have been holding on to things that are not important at all. They have been putting their trust in their own power and not God’s; that they have been worshiping anything but God . . . and now they are facing their destruction.
This is what happens so many times when we choose things other than God, as individuals and as families. And Jeremiah saw what was happening and pleaded with God to have things be different. And now, the people are beaten down, Jeremiah’s people are facing exile . . . and Jeremiah says that as his people are hurt, he is hurt, as they are injured, he is injured, as they are in mourning, he is in mourning.
He wishes it could be different, but it is not. It will not be. Sometimes there is just nothing to be done . . . except perhaps to cry.
The first time I really heard my daughter cry was on my first Wednesday in China, after she had been placed in my arms by her nanny or ayi that Sunday. It was three days later. She didn’t really cry when the orphanage workers gave her to me in that meeting room in the hotel where myself and six other families were staying that night. When they handed her to me, she whimpered three times, sort of an “oooh . . . oooh . . . oooh” and that was it. She looked worried occasionally, but nothing like the cry I heard late Wednesday night.
It really is pretty amazing that this child who had known her caretakers, who had known one life and one set of people for 14 months of her life would then be just handed over to someone who would smell different, look different, talk different, that nothing would ever be the same again. Life would never be the same.
But all she did was cry, “oooh . . . oooh . . . oooh” . . . until Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the travel group that I was with had the opportunity to visit the orphanage where she had lived, so we went. Our daughter seemed a bit nervous when we got there. She was held by some of the orphanage staff again, but wanted to come back to Baba’s arms. I saw her crib. I saw the room where the children played. I met the director of the orphanage and asked her a couple of questions, what they knew and what they didn’t.
My daughter seemed alright while we were there, but it was that night that she cried. It was about three in the morning, and she was sleeping in a crib that was next to my bed. And she began moaning and crying . . . and I thought maybe she wanted a bottle, maybe she wanted to be held . . . but no matter what I did, she would not stop . . . and she never opened her eyes, she just held them shut . . . and cried . . . and it is the kind of cry that mourns what is lost, the kind of cry that knows that everything has changed in a moment . . . it may be better or it may be worse . . . who is to know. And you don’t know . . . and so we cry for what we have lost. And in the end, with this little girl that I had only met a few days ago, but that my wife and I had been thinking about, praying for, preparing for for so many many months, in the end, I could do nothing but cry with her, hurt with her, and feel that brokenness that she must have felt.
Sometimes there is just nothing else that can be done . . . except to cry.
And this is what Jeremiah says, this is what Jeremiah cries, “Where is that thing that will help me? Is there no medicine to fix this? Is there no balm in Gilead? Is the Lord not in Zion? Where is God?” Jeremiah pleads.
And the scripture is confusing there. Scholars can’t really tell who is speaking the next few verses. Some translations choose for these words to be uttered by Jeremiah. Some translations leave it ambiguous. And some say that the voice of God is the very next voice we hear.
And it is God saying, “Oh that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my people.” God is weeping for and weeping with the people of God. And sometimes in the midst of our deepest struggles and deepest trials, that is where God is, right there, crying with us.
After all, this is a God who came down to be with us, who left everything, who humbled himself as Paul writes, even unto death, a death on a cross.
And so we are a people who do know suffering, sometimes of our own making, but we are also a people who know that there is a balm in Gilead, even when we are discouraged and feel our work’s in vain, even when we wish we had more knowledge, in the words of the hymn, we tell the love of Jesus . . . and that he died for all.
That next morning in China, my daughter awoke. As I leaned over the crib she smiled. As I picked her up, placed her on the bed and we played . . . she giggled . . . for the first time.
Thanks be to God for the kind of love and grace that is shown to you and to me. May we always trust and hold to that faith. May we boldly share that faith with others.