"This is your lot,
The portion of your measures from Me," says the Lord,
"Because you have forgotten Me
And trusted in falsehood."
I'm sure that I have mentioned it before, but Jeremiah is my favorite prophet. His heart hurt for his people; for the sins they had committed against the Lord. He desperately tried to warn them that judgment was coming; and for his compassion and obedience, he was beaten, ostracized and ignored. Yet he never lost his zeal for trying to turn his nation back to their God.
So, it was with great heartache that I received a particular comment this week. It simply said, "Please be a Jeremiah to us; please pray for my country, the Philippines. Thank you and God bless you, ma'am."
I was instantly humbled. I am no Jeremiah. I am just one woman who decided one day to reach out to others and express my deepest thoughts and emotions about my country, my future, and most importantly, my God.
But I have had a strong sense from day one of Typhoon Haiyan, that judgment was part of this devastation. That's not to say that all bad weather events are evidence of an angry God, or that God enjoys punishing his followers when they disobey or sin. But I kept having a nagging thought that something was going on under the surface of this tragedy.
Then I received an email from a faithful mentor of mine, who asked me to pray for the people of the Philippines and for their specific needs. It seems that the relief teams that have gone in to provide much needed assistance have found that Philippine mythology is very common among the people, and includes a collection of tales and superstitions about magical creatures and entities. Some Filipinos, even though heavily Christianized, still believe in these tales. The prevalence of belief in the figures of Philippines mythology is strong in the provinces.
This story, from one of the relief workers, will reveal the nature of this problem: The old woman sat on the roadside, shivering in the cold. Like everyone else in the Philippines’ Leyte province, her house had been destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. She had escaped with practically nothing, but she clutched a religious statue worshiped by many on Cebu Island.
A relief team partnering with Baptist Global Response stopped to give her a jacket to shield against the cold. Instead of putting it on, however, she wrapped it around the statue. Then, obviously heartbroken and confused, she spoke to the statue.
“Why have you failed me?” she asked. “Why have you failed me?”
The storm has killed, at present count, more than 3,600 people, and a leader in the Southern Baptist relief efforts said it has shaken most survivors’ faith in the folk religion that keeps them from finding the meaningful lives of hope and purpose God offers. As a result, relief workers have a long-sought opportunity to help survivors find hope for new lives, as well as provide them with the necessities of survival.
“This area is the Philippines’ last frontier, in a sense, because it’s hard, hard ground. The folk religion here is so embedded and strong,” said Stan Smith, a missionary who grew up in the Philippines. “We’ve been praying and praying and praying all these years. Now this great ‘bad’ has shaken these islands. There is a sense of excitement that God is at work here in all of this. We’re bringing in resources to help when the people are very sensitive and open.”
So, you see, in our verse today, Jeremiah is telling us very plainly that God will do whatever it takes to get our attention and turn us away from the lies and deceit of the Evil One; and in this case, it is the worship of false gods and statues. But are we any different from these poor Filipino peasants? We may not be physically clutching a statue, but are we clinging to false promises of happiness and security in people and systems and things that are equally incapable of securing our salvation?
As I said, I am no Jeremiah or prophet; but together, we Christians can pray as a body and petition God, on behalf of the Philippine people, that He will do great works among them and turn this tragedy into a victory for His kingdom. In response to this commenter's fervent plea, let us get on our knees and pray for her country. And while we pray in reverence and awe of His powerful judgment, let us not forget our own nation -- we too have a reckoning coming.