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Homeless Prophets and Tragic Hope

We're excited to welcome Jeremiah Damir Bašurić as a Do Justice columnist! Jeremiah lives in Edmonton, where he pastors a multi-cultural Reformed church plant called mosaicHouse Church, works at The Mustard Seed, and hikes with his wife Sarah. 


Ever since I realized my name was in the Bible, I wanted to get acquainted with the book and the prophet Jeremiah. I read Jeremiah 4:23-27 the other day looking for inspiration:  

I have seen, and here: the earth,
    and it was formless and empty;
and the heavens,
    their light was gone.
I have seen, and here: the mountains,
    and they were quaking;
    all the hills were swaying.
I have seen, and here: no people;
    every bird in the sky had flown away.
I have seen, and here: the fruitful land was a desert;
    all its towns lay in ruins
    before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
This is what the Lord says:
“The whole land will be ruined,
    though I will not destroy it completely.

(paraphrase by Ellen Davis in “Scripture, Culture and Agriculture”)

Instead of inspiration, I found despair. Instead of gaining a better understanding of Jeremiah, I was left more confused. I mean what is with all the apocalyptic negativity? Where was grace and hope?

What is with all the apocalyptic negativity?

I did not understand this passage until one of my friends experiencing homelessness came to a Bible study hosted at The Mustard Seed, the ministry where I work. He came to the study downcast. And although he tried to contain it, he could not hold back what he had seen.

“Again and again this keeps happening. I had to do something….”

He had seen a man creeping closer to one of his sisters. The man’s eyes held the coldness of a politician and his words were full of violence. He desired the sister as Egypt had desired virgin Israel. The man was a dragon backed by an army of leopards. My brother saw the Lord hot with anger, yet silent and distant, so he stood in the gap between his sister and the dragon – bearing all the strength he could to resist his desire to defeat the dragon with a sword. The dragon backed down and the leopards dispersed.

In tears and violent words, my brother relayed this vision to the group.

My brother said he had seen the end of time, when the lights of heaven are gone. In tears and violent words, my brother relayed this vision to the group. Our group did not fully understand his “negativity”. Neither did I at the time. And then the words of Jeremiah became clear to me:

I have seen, and here, a de-creation, a disintegration back to the formless void, the wasteland, the violent dark chaos.

I have seen, and here, the mountains and hills, the elevations and the skyscrapers palpitate to the frequency of bust and boom. I have seen, and here, cities pulled up and dismembered by the resonance of that same neo-liberal frequency.

Jeremiah describes despair in order to help us reach hope. Hope is not only contained in the last verse of this passage—it permeates every word.

Jeremiah describes despair in order to help us reach hope.

Ellen Davis calls this type of seeing, which is so pervasive among the prophets, “tragic imagination.’ The purpose of the tragic imagination was not to lead the people toward negativity or despair, but rather paradoxically to lead people back towards the path of, to use Wendell Berry’s pun, “re-membering”. To re-member oneself back into the membership of a healthy community which participates in God’s redemptive movement towards the shalom of the earth, a wholeness reminiscent of the garden-land of Genesis. It was meant to inspire hope in an apathetic heart, a heart diseased with an imagination corrupted by the dominant culture of the city.

Unfortunately, like many others like him, my friend’s voice is not heard. He is a crushed man, bearing weight of a cross far too heavy to carry. The weight of his cross is unbearable because the Church, the body of Christ, has dismembered him. They have labeled him an outcast, a heretic – or even more condemning – impolite, intolerable, not nice. We have pushed him out to the fringes, kicking him out of the court like the prophets before him. We have exiled him to the inner-city so that he may die and his vision may be silenced.

Unfortunately, like many others like him, my friend’s voice is not heard.

By marginalizing those with this apocalyptic prophetic voice, the voices that can unveil what’s actually going on in our world, we actually abandon hope. We abandon the ability to see where we have conformed to the pattern of this world and we avoid the grisly question: what if my brother is right?

What if the words of Jesus are true and the poor exiles are blessed while woes are saved for the complicit and churched rich?

What if our good news, God’s Kingdom and reign revealed in Jesus Christ, actually runs at odds with the political and economic security offered by the city? These are the questions the tragic imagination leads us to.

What if my brother is right?

The ancient Greek word that our English work “apocalypse” comes from literally means an “uncovering.” Biblically, this uncovering (the apocalypse) comes before the restoration of all things—things will be revealed as they really are.  

However, the biblical vision is not only tragic. It also tells us of a hope that will never abandon us. However, in order to reach this tremendous hope, we much first embrace the vision and the person of the tragic prophet. We must first be willing to see.

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