In America today, racist nationalists, including but not limited to Nazis, emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, the poster child for white mediocrity, threaten the security of our union. Uniformed bigots cannot face the truth of being unable to succeed, despite every imaginable advantage. America’s failure to live up to its promise of equality for all manifests itself in these oppressors who pathetically paint themselves as victims. In the past, when festering, systemic violence gave rise to racist power structures such as chattel slavery and fascism, America lost unthinkable quantities of blood and treasure to put them down.
The people of Judah similarly turned from justice. They chose idolatry over the one true God. God’s advice to Jeremiah, “Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress. . . . Do not pray for the well-being of this people.” Jeremiah 11:14, 14:11. How bad does it have to get for God to tell God’s prophet not to pray for God’s people? Well, “They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal — something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” Jeremiah 19:5.
God poses an uncomfortable question to Jeremiah, a question I ask myself as I read Donald Trump’s response to Nazi attacks on American soil, “Can a leopard change its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” Jeremiah 13:23.
Speaking metaphorically of the solution, God offers Jeremiah this parable:
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.
Jeremiah 18:1-6. Less metaphorically, God promises to keep a remnant, but as for most of them:
“‘In this place I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who want to kill them, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds and the wild animals. I will devastate this city and make it an object of horror and scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.’
Jeremiah 19:7-9. Is there a way to right the evils of unjust distribution of power, without violence? Is history actually full of societies redeeming themselves without cataclysm, but the only stories we remember are the dramatic ones?