'I myself said, 'How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.' I thought you would call me 'Father' and not turn away from following me. But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,' declares the LORD. A cry is heard on the barren heights, the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel, because they have perverted their ways and have forgotten the LORD their God. 'Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.' Yes, we will come to you, for you are the LORD our God.' (NIV)While the prophetic message applied directly to Israel about five hundred years before Christ, its spirit applies equally to today's "Children of Israel" by faith: God's church. Read in that context, this passage speaks forcefully to the church's unfaithful. Now we must decide how much to spiritualize this passionate appeal to apply it to our lives. "How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation." First, that Christ-followers are God's sons is a scriptural given.(Galatians 3:7, Galatians 3:23-26, Galatians 4:5-7, Ephesians 1:3-6, Romans 8:14-15, Hebrews 12:7-8) What does God mean for us with the promise to give a "desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation."? The obvious interpretation is our eternal, heavenly abode. Push the passage a bit further and we might see in it an earthly land as our temporal inheritance. Yet, an honest perusal of today's persecuted church in less-than-friendly lands could rightly cause us to rebel at the thought of a temporal inheritance. So let's look at it another way; the apostle Paul admitted to being the target of extreme persecution, but he wrote:
"So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2Co 12:7-10)Today's persecuted churches live those very words. Because they could lose their property, their jobs, their freedom, and even their lives because they profess faith in Christ Jesus. Could they avoid most persecution if they soft-pedaled their profession of faith, as so many American Christ-followers do when it might be unpopular? Of course; they have free will just as we do. What we don't have, however, is their passionate commitment to their Lord. What follows in the Jeremiah passage is God's lamentation over Israel's unfaithfulness, where he describes Israel's unnecessary suffering and then holds out his offer of forgiveness and restoration. Part of that offer is God's promise to, "cure you of backsliding." Depending on the church's willingness of spirit, that promise might be viewed as a threat, but his "cure" is the most loving act possible: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (Joh 3:16-17) In view of the world's saturation with human evil, how could anyone not view God's timeless appeal for what it is, an all-powerful, eternal hand up for an impotent humanity?