The God who terrifies

Jeremiah 1 is an inspiring passage, presenting God’s clear calling for Jeremiah’s life and his promise to be with him (1:19). Confirmation of God’s calling and presence are provided by the LORD’s touching Jeremiah’s lips (1:9) and two visions (1:11-13).

Nonetheless, the passage is a bit disconcerting. Even though most graduate and professional students have a strong sense of purpose in what they are doing, they cannot always describe how and when they were “called” to the academic is life. And what does “calling” even mean when there are few jobs in academia?

Besides the challenge of understanding how to apply calling to our lives, the text itself presents a disconcerting picture of God. The passage begins well, painting a picture of tender care: Jeremiah was “set apart before he was born, known before he was formed in the womb.” (1:5) When Jeremiah protests that he is too young, the Lord assures him: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” (1:8) Yet, the second time this promise of God’s presence is repeated, it has been prefaced by what appears to be a threat:

Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. 18 Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LordJer 1:17-19 (NIV)

This is a God who terrifies, who terrifies his servants no less! Even as this image does not fit well into many people’s pictures of who God is, it is worth pondering. What might be the prophetic word of this God for our lives (and callings) today, for the church, and the university?