An appalling and horrible thing
has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely,
and the priests rule at their direction;
my people love to have it so,
but what will you do when the end comes? (Jeremiah 5:30–31)
This is a plea that pastors, evangelists, teachers, parents, and friends warn those they love that, if they do not repent, they will be speechless, helpless, and hopeless when the end comes.
I say this as a Christian Hedonist — as one who believes, down to his toenails, that joyless compliance with God’s commands is useless in the last day — that without satisfaction in God himself, all repentance is vain.
For there is no such thing as repentance without satisfaction in God. This is the essence of sin — being more satisfied with anything above God (Romans 1:23). Joyless repentance is an oxymoron, because the sin we must repent from is finding little joy in God.
What was this “appalling and horrible thing” that Jeremiah said had happened in the land? “Prophets prophesy falsely.” Priests fall in line with the falsehood. And the people “love to have it so.” They love it — love it.
That’s bad enough — prophesying falsehood and enticing the whole nation to love it. But what was the “appalling and horrible” falsehood? Jeremiah had already named it.
“Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:12–13)
“Joyless compliance with God’s commands is useless. Without satisfaction in God himself, all repentance is vain.”
So there is a double sense of being appalled. First, that falsehood is preached and loved. Second, that dust is more desirable than the fountain of God. God is not to be out-preferred. This is the essence of the “appalling and horrible thing.” This is what must be forsaken. Or judged “when the end comes.”
Repentance is turning from the slow suicide of a diet of dust to the banquet of God’s bounty. This is why Christian Hedonists totally embrace the pervasive biblical warnings to repent before it is too late.
Jeremiah asks, “What will you do when the end comes?” — you who have loved falsehood. Loved it. Loved it.
Jeremiah doesn’t answer. This is a question that carries its own answer. Everyone knows the answer. “What will you do when the end comes?” You will be able to do nothing. Nothing to save yourself. From what?
Speechless, Helpless, Hopeless
Jeremiah had just told them what in the previous verse: “Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?” (Jeremiah 5:29). If you will not have God as your treasure, you will have him as your enemy.
And “what will you do” when you stand before God as your omnipotent, infinitely just, and all-knowing enemy? What will you do when you face the one you have belittled all your life by finding him boring, and unworthy of your greatest affections?
You will be speechless, helpless, and hopeless.
“If you will not have God as your treasure, you will have him as your enemy.”
“What will you do when the end comes?” What will your mouth do? Will you begin with protests that you are not being treated fairly? You know what he will say, if you try that.
He will say, “I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight” (Jeremiah 9:24). Do you think you will be able to make a case that your marginalizing of God in this life was a small thing?
Or will you make your claim that you were weak and helpless? Really? Too weak to trust in the strength of another? Too weak to trust in the wealth and beauty of God?
You know you were not too weak to trust. You know it, because “you trusted in your works and your treasures” (Jeremiah 48:7). You “trusted in deceptive words” (Jeremiah 7:8). “You trusted in lies” (Jeremiah 13:25). You trusted in the arm of the flesh, though I warned you repeatedly, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5).
And I didn’t just warn you. I promised you. I wooed you, and allured you. I promised, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:7). I told you that “because you have put your trust in me . . . you shall have your life” (Jeremiah 39:18). You “shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord . . . and satisfied with my goodness” (Jeremiah 31:12, 14).
Too Late for Mercy
Or will you, then, plead for mercy “when the end comes”? Perhaps you may. But it will be too late. Oh how often I offered you mercy! How often did I call to you, “Return, faithless Israel, declares the Lord. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 3:12). But I warned you that there would be a too late. Now there is none to intercede, as there once was. I will not hear (Jeremiah 7:16).
Nor should you think that “when the end comes” you will be able to repent and cry for mercy. You will cry. And you will want mercy. But not the mercy of repentance. Only the mercy of relief. You will not delight in me at that moment of judgment. You will delight in freedom from suffering. For that you will cry. But I will not suddenly become your sweetest Treasure. Beneath your crying is a heart that grieves the loss of pleasure, not the loss of God.
“When the end comes,” you will be speechless and helpless. No words, and no deeds of penance, and no acts of virtue will reverse your love of sin. “The prophets prophesied falsely, and you loved to have it so.” You loved it. And you love it still. Judgment you hate — it is bitter to your taste. But not because God is sweet.
You forsook the fountain of living water. You preferred dust to delight in God. Therefore, “the Lord has rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath” (Jeremiah 7:29). This will be your portion forever.
Ocean of Mercy
I am pleading that pastors, evangelists, teachers, parents, and friends warn those they love that, if they do not repent, they will be speechless, helpless, and hopeless when the end comes. You don’t have to use the words of Jeremiah. You can use the words of the risen Jesus if you prefer.
“Repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5).
“Repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:16).
“Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works” (Revelation 2:22).
“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you” (Revelation 3:3).
“The Bible is replete with warnings about the failure to rejoice in God as our greatest Treasure.”
This risen Christ is the one “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (Revelation 1:5). If Jeremiah offered a fountain of mercy in this life, Jesus offers an ocean. All the more urgent, then, are the warnings — “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).
To be sure, the prevailing message of biblical Christian Hedonism is a summons to superior joy.
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1)
But Christian Hedonists do not presume to be wiser, or more loving, or more gracious than the Bible. And the Bible is replete with warnings about the failure to rejoice in God as our greatest Treasure.
“Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart . . . therefore you shall serve your enemies.” (Deuteronomy 28:47–48)
Therefore, say to those you love — your children, your friends, your flock — “Delight yourself in the Lord!” (Psalm 37:4). “At his right hand is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore!” (Psalm 16:11). And say to them, “If you love the world more than God, what will you do when the end comes?”