We've been reading the books of the prophets in class, and it's a puzzling collection of oracles, both of condemnation and hope.
Often the condemnation is for the same problems.
The people have turned away and worshipped other gods. That's the part that we seem to like to emphasize, and it's an important part of the prophecies found in scripture. Sometimes we even use that bit to get introspective and ask ourselves what gods we are following that are leading us away from the one true God. That is important, but we can't stay there.
The people have not cared for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed. This gets emphasized in our churches a little less, mainly because it makes us feel like we aren't doing enough. I can't tell you how often I've heard these prophetic words and felt condemned. No, I haven't cared for all these people like I should. I haven't stepped it up and gone the extra mile. I'm sorry, but I just can't give to everybody. I don't have the money to give to multiple charities, and I don't have the time or choose not to use a lot of my time to help everybody else out. I feel like I'm almost a failure as a person of faith.
Of course we could help this situation by realizing that this is the condemnation of a nation as a whole, not every single citizen. Yes, we as citizens of the family of God are called to help out, but we as individuals don't have to take it all on. We are called to specific areas of concern that take on special meaning to us. As a collective, we can cover all the bases.
I think what we fail to truly emphasize within the prophetic works is the mixture of condemnation and hope. We either take the hopeful words or the condemning words and separate them from the words that surround them. But even within the chapters of condemnation, there are glimmers of hope. There is an oscillation between the two, a balance that is often lost within the church setting. We never seem to mix them But what if we did? People are condemned because of their actions, yet God still cares, still loves the people. God mourns when the people turn astray and God awaits the day when people turn back. It's hard to think of God's condemning of the people, it seems harsh and inconsiderate, leading many in popular piety to think of that punishment as coming from the God of the Old Testament. But even when the people are being cast into exile, God still speaks of hope, of a future. There will be a time when the mourning will be no more. This is not a spiteful God. It's not a warm, cuddly, lovable Jesus, but it's not a demon either. There's a balance.
And maybe when we take the prophecies as a balance between condemnation and hope, we can see the balance that was present within Jesus' ministry. Maybe we'll have a more balanced Christ. After all, if we believe God spoke through the prophets, then Jesus, being fully human and fully divine, should have a similar voice, right?