“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart” (Jer. 17:1).
In college I was invited to a studio of young printmakers where I had the opportunity to attempt creating an engraving of my own. Very quickly I learned that it took extreme force and precision for even the most shallow cut to be formed on the surface of the plates. If even the faintest mark was made in error, it was impossible to continue. It was a very disheartening process, and by the end my whole plate had be to flattened into a clean slate that could be engraved anew.
Reading today about the forcefully deep engraving within us—“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart”—how can we not become disheartened?
Oddly perhaps, this picture of our scarred hearts could be a comfort to us. In the first place, we are not alone: all hold within us a file cabinet of secrets, cruel thoughts, and selfish ambitions. Secondly, isn’t there solace in the news that there is a diagnosis for our disease? This word from Jeremiah draws us out of the waiting room and says definitively: “It’s your heart—the problem is with your heart” (“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” [Jer. 17:9]).
Diagnosis brings the comfort of certainty, but what about the cure? For many of us, there is fear that the harsh words, thoughts, and shameful acts done both by and to us have gone too deep. Just as there are memories of events we feel we could never forget, there is the fear that our daily inner disappointment will painfully linger on, incurable.
Chapter 18 of Jeremiah tells us that there is no need to fear. The piercingly painful marks of darkness deep within us do not trouble the Good Potter who made us: For while “the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand . . . he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do” (Jer. 18:4).
It would seem that as simply as a child bends and stretches wet clay, God can completely remake and transform us as well.
Here in Jeremiah we have the diagnosis: you are more desperately sick than you could ever imagine, and, no, you are not getting better on your own. However, very soon in Jeremiah we will read of the promise that we have already received: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jer. 31:33).
We are told that soon, very soon, all children of God shall be healed: “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52).