Divine Authority and the Natural Order in Jeremiah 1

Divine authority and nature interplay in subtle ways in Jeremiah 1. One of the first audible notes is a peculiar dynamic God introduces into the economy of redemption: the inversion of the order of nature to magnify God's unique power and master over that order. Jeremiah is a very young man, untrained in speech, and he is the one God has chosen to speak on His behalf before the powerful and the royal. Nature encourages those of education, rank, and ability to speak authoritatively over those unlearned, of humble status, and less competence. To invert this does not necessarily contradict nature, inasmuch as nature does teach that a message of truth, especially carried on behalf of the highest Authority, ought be heeded by anyone of any rank, but it does operate outside the channels which nature generally carves out. This suspension of a basic norm serves to accentuate the categorically superior authority of God's direct voice over all that we might infer in the ordinary course of our reason.

This inversion is followed by a second inversion. Nature unites obedience to God and blessing from God; as we work with the grain of the order God has designed and decreed, we experience the divine goodness in that order organically. This, however, is deeply complicated by the introduction of sin. Agents contrary to the divine purpose can inflict suffering in response to obedience to God or give reward for the opposite. As sin intensifies, so does this disruption to the organic association of right and blessedness. So God warns to Jeremiah that, if he obeys the divine commission, the recipients of his message will fight against him. Curse will be repaid for blessing, the precise opposite of nature. This, God clearly shows, is the result of their sins, which have turned them into agents opposed to His design.

Precisely in this bleak form of irony, however, God inverts the inversion and reasserts His natural design by extraordinary and still inverted means. Though the kings and princes will rise up against Jeremiah on account of sin, God promises to intervene by His own power so that they will not prevail. The strong will be prevented from harming the weak, in a manner contrary to the general course of nature, but this will serve to reestablish the proper natural order in which reward follows righteousness. God will restore His original design for nature by working in and through an inversion of natural means to exploit the existing inversion of the natural order brought about by sin. This gambit is a recurring characteristic of God's dealings with His people and ultimately prefigures the Resurrection, in which God gives His great "Yes" to the created order precisely in a supernatural introduction of strength in weakness, life from death, and justification through condemnation.

On another note altogether, God here holds the kings, princes, and priests especially responsible for the condition of the people of God. The whole people has sinned, and it will be punished, by the message especially goes to the leaders, who are the blind leading the blind. This points to the organic natural unity of human authority and human communities: those who lead the people represent the people, direct the people, and in an important sense are the people.

Beyond this, their chief sin, and the sin of the whole people, is idolatry. Idolatry is the worst sin at the root of all the others because it severs the whole structure of divine authority in nature and special revelation. Worshipping idols cuts off the ability to obey God's verbally revealed law, quite directly violating it and often replacing some or all of its injunctions, and it distorts the relationship of the idolater to the natural law in general. This is especially true because idolatry twists mankind's natural relationship to two classes of other beings: those of heaven and those of earth. With respect to heavenly beings, "other gods," idolatry turns man, the proper heir of God's creation, into the slave of the tutors. With respect to earthly creatures, idolatry subjects man to the service of dead materials formed to into "the work of [his] hands," overthrowing his regency on God's behalf. The combined effect is so detestable that God must judge, sometimes quite harshly and running quite roughshod over the natural way of things at points, even through the mouth of one who seems to be just a dumb kid.