For this is what the Lord says: “Do not enter a house where there is a funeral meal; do not go to mourn or show sympathy, because I have withdrawn my blessing, my love and my pity from this people,” declares the Lord. “Both high and low will die in this land. They will not be buried or mourned, and no one will cut himself or shave his head for them. No one will offer food to comfort those who mourn for the dead—not even for a father or a mother—nor will anyone give them a drink to console them.
“And do not enter a house where there is feasting and sit down to eat and drink. For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Before your eyes and in your days I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in this place.”
The most disconcerting thing about reading the prophets is the constant depictions of the fury and wrath of God. I often picture God as having an inexhaustible love—indeed, I often hear that God’s love is “unconditional.” Yet this passage, among many others, seems to destroy any such notion. God says, “I have withdrawn my blessing, my love and my pity from this people.” Sometimes I find myself asking, Who is this? Is this the same God who has died for me in Christ? The same God that John describes by saying that He is Love (1 John 4:16)? How can such a God, whose very essence is love, withdraw His love from His very own chosen people? And what of the cross? How does the cross change the way that God relates to His people, or does it?
The way that I tend to understand passages like these and their relation to God’s activity now, i.e. post-cross, is that the cross is in some way God’s act to overcome Himself, to satisfy Himself. This can be explained in a number of ways. First, God is much less willing to subject His people to wrath when He has subjected His Son to it. Sometimes God is pained over the punishment of Israel in the Old Testament: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?” (Hosea 11:8). How much more is God pained over the wrath He pours out on His Son! Second, through the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, God overcomes the alienation between Himself and His sinful people. No longer are sacrifices required to purge God’s people of their sin and restore the broken relationship between them and God, because Jesus has been given “once for all” (Hebrews 7:27). Finally, and this is what must be said with fear and trembling, there remains wrath for those outside of Christ. Paul speaks of “Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Even though God has joined Himself to the suffering of the world in Christ, for those outside of Christ there remains only a pallid hopelessness: “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3). For “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:19; Deuteronomy 4:24).