“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved.”
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?
O that my head were a spring of water,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
for the slain of my poor people!
O that I had in the desert
a traveler’s lodging place,
that I might leave my people
and go away from them!
For they are all adulterers,
a band of traitors.
They bend their tongues like bows;
they have grown strong in the land for falsehood, and not for truth;
for they proceed from evil to evil,
and they do not know me, says the LORD. (Jeremiah 8:20-9:3)
Our pain is God’s pain. God expresses his suffering over the suffering of his people. Their wounds are self-inflicted, they have turned their backs on God and gone off their own way. They have been unfaithful to him—committed adultery—by worshipping other gods than Yahweh. They have believed lies rather than the truth and as a consequence, they no longer know God: they believe lies about him, have false notions about his intentions, believe the worst about him in order to justify for themselves the poor choices they have made. Like a husband watching his wife spiral down into addiction, leaving him for abusive relationships and suffering privation and misery, so God is miserable, not just because of the loss of affection, but because he still loves his estranged wife and hopes to rescue her from herself.
But he also knows that the time has not yet come. Israel must suffer for a long time, must endure significant pain, must hit rock bottom, before she will be ready to hear God’s voice again and accept his help, his rescue, and be willing to restore the shattered relationship.
In the meantime, God will cry over his people. Gilead, the hill of testimony and the region around it, was noted for its spices, oils and aromatic gums. The question regarding balm in Gilead was rhetorical, akin to asking someone in a swimming pool if they’re wet enough yet. The solution for Israel’s suffering was obvious to God. Their pain was entirely unnecessary. They already knew what God expected and it was so easy.
God’s discipline is not only unpleasant for us, it is also unpleasant for God.