Image artwork of Jeremiah
Jeremiah: “I told you so.”
By Ilya Repin, 1866
via Wikimedia Commons

The daily lectionary this morning included Jeremiah 36, the story of Jeremiah getting Baruch to transcribe a scroll with all the messages against Judah and read it out at the Temple; Temple officials look over the scroll, and then take a report of it to the king, Jehoiakim; Jehoiakim calls for the scroll to be brought to him, where he’s sitting by a brazier because of the chilly fall weather; as the scroll is read out to him, after every few columns, he cuts off a piece of the scroll and throws it into the fire in the brazier; when the scroll is completely burnt up, he orders the arrest of Jeremiah and Baruch.

The story illustrates another factor in God’s ineffective communication: poor reception.

If we think of God’s communication as analogous to verbal communication, we could think of it this way:

We may not be listening.

We may not even have the ability to listen. We may be so hard of hearing, or so far away, that we can’t listen even if we want to, or think we want to. (See 1 Samuel 3:1 “The word of YHWH was rare in those days, and visions were not widespread.” In context, the text implies that Israel could use more receivers.)

We may have the ability, but not the habit of tuning in; or, we have the habit of actively tuning out, for whatever reason. (I think of my daughter.)

Even if we are listening, actively, with some attention, we may not like what we hear, at which point we may shut it out or distort it or suppress our awareness of it, or fail to understand it – not because the message as delivered is in principle too difficult to understand, but because we resist grasping the implications of what we are hearing.

Even if we listen, and understand, we may not act on what we hear. This happens with human communication, too. I smoked cigarettes for 30 years; for a lot of those years, I had listened to communications about how smoking was damaging my health, and I believed it, too. I still didn’t quit right away. All that communication from the American Heart Association was “ineffective” for a long time. Or … maybe not? I did quit, finally, after all …