It's hard to know who to believe.
That's always true, of course. But it is especially true these days.
Some people seem to know exactly why this virus has come our way. Some people are telling us that we are doomed. Some people are assuring us that it's no big deal and that everything will be fine. Some people seem to know what we should do next. Some people tell us that we should do nothing. Everybody seems to have an answer, an explanation, a plan.
As I said, it's hard to know who to believe.
That being the case, I've been thinking a lot these days about the Old Testament prophets. I have been thinking especially about the fact that most of those prophets had pretty hard lives. Only rarely were they listened to; often, in fact, their message was aggressively rejected. And often that rejection was personal, painful, and (at least occasionally) deadly. These faithful prophets would do their best to deliver a word from God -- only to discover that other so-called "prophets" were sharing an alternative word. And these alternative words were often much more pleasant and palatable.
The prophet Jeremiah told the people that hard days were coming. At the very same time, messages from other prophets assured the people that everything was fine. As is the case for each generation, people had to decide which message to embrace.
And, obviously, it is much easier to hear a message that declares that . . . everything is fine.
In that setting, God spoke these words:
"Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you;
they fill you with false hopes.
They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.
They keep saying to those who despise me,
'The Lord says: You will have peace.'
And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say,
'No harm will come to you.'"
There is nothing wrong with the assurance of peace, of course. In fact, that's a message we would long to hear. But Jeremiah knew that peace was not on the horizon, and he felt compelled to tell the painful truth. And though he didn't enjoy his own message, Jeremiah assured the people that hard days were ahead.
How did Jeremiah know what would come? And how did the false prophets not know?
A little later in Jeremiah 23, we see the answer to those questions. We're told that it is essential to "stand in the council of the Lord" (verses 18 and 22). We should note that the word is "council," not "counsel." What's being described here is not merely guidance or good advice, but a meeting, a gathering, a time with God. Only in the council of the Lord are we are able to hear his word and understand his purpose. The council of the Lord describes a setting where God shares his heart with those who love him and seek him. According to Jeremiah 23, the false prophets had not been present in those meetings with God.
Because they had not stood in the council of the Lord, they simply shared their own opinions.
And because their news was good, people flocked to follow these prophets . . . who turned out to be . . . completely wrong.
Frankly, I am personally drawn to more positive, hopeful, optimistic messages. Especially these days!
But Jeremiah reminds me to be careful. Jeremiah reminds me to use great discernment in deciding which message to embrace.
It turns out that what God might be saying might not be exactly what I want to hear.
But if the message is from God, I will be desperate to hear it. Even if that message is hard.
And one more thing: if God calls a council meeting, I want to be there!