I keep coming back to this arresting passage in Jeremiah:
For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, “Peace, peace,”
when there is no peace.
— Jeremiah 6:13-14
Any declaration of peace calls for discernment. Anyone can say there is “peace” in a place when there’s really not. In fact, folks with positions of power (formal or informal) have a vested interest in “saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
That way they can preserve the status quo (from which they benefit). They can avoid “conflict” (or taking a long, hard look at reality and themselves). They can curry favor with those who love to hear that there is peace (don’t we all?).
In Jeremiah it was prophet and priest who were “dealing falsely,” saying “Shalom!” when shalom was decidedly not God’s word for the people. Shalom did not reflect the hard realities.
I find it sobering to remember that prophet and priest are appointed, sacred offices, established by God.
Yes, even sacred communities are susceptible to the abuse of lying leaders who declare peace where there is none.
A hard truth, but I think the even greater challenge is to think about how these verses might apply to our own settings.
It’s easy to call out Jeremiah’s Hananiah, his nemesis who persuaded the people “to trust in lies.” It’s easy to point at pastors, priests, and bishops who have lied and misled people in other communities. It’s easy to call for the resignation of a deceitful and unrepentant church leader in another faith community (or president of a country). Indeed, we should.
But what about when the false prophet is my false prophet? What about when the fake peace proclaimer is our fake peace proclaimer? What about when the deceit is coming “from inside the house”?
We might try to minimize:
- Yeah, but she’s been a huge part of our community for decades!
- Well, he thinks there is actually “peace” here, and he’s prophesying sincerely.
- They’re doing the best they can under the circumstances; how about some grace?
Or the even more insidious: “Who can even know what peace is?”
It’s harder to navigate when Hananiah is one of us… when we have worshiped with Hananiah… when we have shared meals with Hananiah… when we have done mission together… when we celebrated birthdays and holidays and baptisms together. We might even think that Hananiah has somehow earned the right to be wrong, the right to (occasionally?) misrepresent God to the people. Jeremiah’s Hananiah is clearly in the wrong but my Hananiah gets a mulligan.
Jeremiah 6:16 goes on:
Thus says the LORD:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.
Instead of an uncritical acceptance of our Hananiah’s lying, instead of asking, “How can we even know?”, God calls the people to stand and look and ask. (“Seek and you shall find.”) And then to walk in “the good way.”
And then there is the last line of Jeremiah 6:16—indeed, it often goes unquoted:
But they said, “We will not walk in it.”
May God have mercy on us, for all the times we choose not to walk in God’s good way. And may God give us the discernment and the courage to acknowledge the truth about Hananiah and his prophecies, even when he’s “one of us.”