Misinterpreting the patience of God
Jeremiah 44:16-23 "As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you! 17 But we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble. 18 But since we stopped burning incense to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine." 19 The women also said, "And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, did we make cakes for her, to worship her, and pour out drink offerings to her without our husbands' permission?" 20 Then Jeremiah spoke to all the people—the men, the women, and all the people who had given him that answer—saying: 21 "The incense that you burned in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, you and your fathers, your kings and your princes, and the people of the land, did not the LORD remember them, and did it not come into His mind? 22 So the LORD could no longer bear it, because of the evil of your doings and because of the abominations which you committed. Therefore your land is a desolation, an astonishment, a curse, and without an inhabitant, as it is this day. 23 Because you have burned incense and because you have sinned against the LORD, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD or walked in His law, in His statutes or in His testimonies, therefore this calamity has happened to you, as at this day."(NKJV)
Jeremiah had many conversations with various people in his books. This passage above from Jeremiah 44 really jumped out as one that could have occurred today. The people of the land complain to Jeremiah that they had plenty of food, water, and everything else when they worshiped the “queen of heaven.” It was better when they spread the worship around. They even misplaced the cause of their judgment; it wasn’t because they forgot to worship the Lord that they were being judged, it was because they had stopped praying to their own gods. To them, the simple proximity of time between the various actions gave the cause and effect. It couldn’t possibly have been because of neglecting the worship of Jehovah that they were suffering; they’d stopped doing that too long ago for that to be the cause! They did not know God, nor His word well enough to understand God’s attributes.
Because of the patience of God, sinful men become even more set in their sinful ways. They believe that if they aren’t judged right that second for their sin, that God must be looking the other way—that he must be ok with whatever they are doing, or perhaps He doesn’t exist. In a sense, even this expectation is a form of idolatry. To the unbeliever, whatever he or she is doing is at the center of the universe; God should interrupt His plan of history to make sure that each sin is punished immediately. God should march to their beat and dance to their desires. If He doesn’t, then He doesn’t exist, or He isn’t relevant they will assert. This is the same thing that the atheist does in arguing against God’s existence. “God has to reveal Himself to me in some supernatural way before I will believe” says the atheist. “I’m so important, that I cannot read the words you’ve spoken God, I have to have my own special revelation to believe.”
This may come as a shock to a lot of people, but the Bible isn’t a religious buffet. One doesn’t get to choose this piece or that piece of what God has said to believe, and then choose other pieces that are to be rejected. Either you are going to worship the God who has spoken through the Bible, or you are going to worship an idol. You might think you’re something special if you construct an extra specially complicated idol with some unique features, or you might think yourself special if you adopt the idol of some famous person. You might comfort yourself with the idea that so-and-so also worshiped this or that god and they were a “good” person, but ultimately it is still an idol. The judgment at the end of the age isn’t going to be based on how creatively you adorned the idol you created, it is going to be based on whether or not you know the God who is there. Woe to those whom Christ tells at the end of the age says “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:23).