At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights—in the desert towards my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse—a wind too strong for that. Jeremiah 4:11-12a
Have you ever felt a desert wind—a wind so strong you believe it may pick you up along with the whole earth and move you and everything to a new location? That is Jeremiah’s wind. The words are a grim warning to an ancient people, but they seem appropriate to our time and our political circumstance.
If we lived in the land where Jeremiah lived and spoke for God—Israel six hundred years before Christ—we would know what the warning meant. A hot wind from the barren desert blowing over the heights meant that the crops would fail, the stifling dry air would be suffocating, and the desert sands would cover everything that was once green and lively. The punishment of which Jeremiah is speaking is harsh. If you have not been in a dust storm that pits window glass, removes the polish from automobiles, and obscures the sun, and the sand and airborne stones make you seek cover, you may not catch the significance of the warning.
In Jeremiah’s words, we can hear a warning for us today.
If climate change continues unabated, humanity, if it survives at all, may be confined to desert islands characterized by scorching hot winds as dust devils swirl around the landscape. Humanity’s desert island will be punishment for not listening to the alarms of modern day prophets.
Notice how Jeremiah points out that the hot desert wind is a penalty for the poor rather than the oligarchy—the powerful state and religious leaders of the time. Of course, the oligarchs suffer and in the biblical story they are taken captive and led off to Babylon—held there for seventy years. However, it is the poor that suffer. The lawyers, the scribes, and priests, the aristocracy go off to the banks of the Euphrates to pine for Jerusalem, but they do not suffer as do the left-behind poor—left behind in a desolate land despoiled by the evil oligarchs.
In Jeremiah’s viewpoint, there is no hope. He looked to the heavens and found no relief and to the mountains, and they quaked. He listened to the wildlife that once teemed in the land and it was gone and to the land and saw only the endless desert. There was no hope.
Who had done this to them? Had God deserted the people of Jerusalem? Jeremiah said no. This disaster was clearly the result of their own doing, their evil, their turning away from God. The oligarchs, without regard for the future, plundered resources, oppressed the people and led them into worshiping false gods.
Jeremiah sees it all as hopeless. And if the powerful were looking for relief in the Psalms, they found the Psalmist is no help. Psalm 14 reminds the oligarchy that if they say there is no God, there is no promise for the future, no promise in finding the sole source of life itself. In fact, the elite who turn away from God become the manifestation of corruption. While they control the social structure, they are not wise; they are leading Jerusalem to ruin.
Well, where do we fit into all this? Do Jeremiah’s words and Psalmist’s condemnation fit? Will we ultimately be the reason the hot wind blows and comes not to harvest the crops or cleanse the air but instead leaves us on a barren desert island? In other words, are we among the oligarchs or are we among the oppressed?
Blame is not worthy of our time. Both have an obligation to return to central faith in the Source of All Life.
While most of the time we diddled over trifles and returned to using up the world’s resources, for the past fifteen years, America (and the world) has been facing the hot wind that has come out of the Eastern Desert. That hot wind has not come to cleanse the air or winnow the wheat. That force of hatred, the indifference of the oligarchies, is destroying and has come to destroy life. During this decade-and-a-half, war has been endless. The air and water polluted. The arms industries have profited. Bodies have piled up, children are orphaned, and millions of people displaced—everything seems hopeless.
Hopelessness is not a Christian attitude. We are not the oligarchy of ancient Jerusalem or even the dispossessed poor of that ancient time. The followers of Jesus Christ do not live without hope. Besides our hope in the resurrection, Christians live in the hope that love will prevail. This hope is not passive; an expectation that all will be well in the end. Christians are the embodiment of duty to stand against abuse of the land, to honor the sacred, to care for the sick, the poor, and the captive. Christians stand for the Gospel, the Good News that the reign of God is near and real and abides in each of us.
Unlike the captivity experienced by the oligarchy of Jerusalem, four thousand years ago, we live in the promise that God will not abandon us to the desert wind that comes to scorch the earth, but instead, will seek each faithful soul and bring us home safely.
We may experience the force of evil blowing from the hot desert, we may see the hills quake, and the birds fly away, but there is hope in faith that we are not alone, not abandoned. God loves the world. God loves the world with such passion that he gave us his only son so that all who believe will not perish.