We live in troubled times. There are violent crimes in almost any quiet neighborhood. Immorality is so widespread it seems almost to be ignored. We hear of drug abuse in our schools and corruption in our governments.
And families feel the results: some husbands abandon their wives, some wives neglect their children, and some children are indifferent to their aging parents.
What is our reaction when we see this tide of sadness surging down upon us? When we have hope of success, we can confront problems with courage and resolution. But what can we do when the evils seem unconquerable, the problems insurmountable? What should we do in the face of public evil that apparently cannot be overcome?
The Prophet Jeremiah must have faced similar questions. Prophesying during the forty years preceding the fall of Jerusalem, he watched the children of Israel adopt the immoral and unjust practices of other lands, building idols and burning their own children as sacrifices, rejecting the truth and honoring false prophets who assured them that all would be well.
When Jeremiah denounced these practices, he was insulted and persecuted by kings, princes, priests, and the common people alike. Then the Lord revealed to Jeremiah that because Judah would not repent, Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people scattered. When Jerusalem finally fell, Jeremiah was taken into Egypt by a surviving part of the army of Judah where, according to one legend, he was ultimately martyred.
Three important principles are exemplified in Jeremiah’s struggle against the overwhelming evils of Jerusalem.
First, Jeremiah continued to denounce evil even when there was no real chance that the people would repent. He told the inhabitants of Jerusalem that all the calamities that had been prophesied against them would come to pass because they had hardened their hearts and had not listened to the words of the Lord. Pashur, the chief governor of the temple, smote Jeremiah for saying this, and had him put in stocks. The next day Jeremiah, speaking for the Lord, said:
“Thou, Pashur, … shall go into captivity: and thou shalt come to Babylon, and there thou shalt die, and shalt be buried there, thou, and all thy friends, to whom thou has prophesied lies” (Jer. 20:6).
Jeremiah’s denunciation would certainly not change Pashur, but Jeremiah knew that his duty was to condemn every form of evil. He was forthright and explicit in doing so.
When we are confronted by pervasive evils such as drug abuse or immorality, and when most people seem indifferent to these sins, the situation may appear hopeless. But, as Jeremiah’s example shows, even if we cannot remove evil, we must still resist it without compromise. Inactivity cannot be excused by the unlikelihood of success; we are required always to do our best. If we are valiant, the Lord will bless us with peace and joy, and we will fear no evil.
Second, although most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem did not repent, Jeremiah certainly influenced many persons for good. Nephi mentions Jeremiah twice; he also reports that during Zedekiah’s reign, many prophets preached repentance in Jerusalem, and he suggests that Lehi was directly influenced by them. The Book of Mormon also records that the Lord saved Mulek, one of the sons of Zedekiah, and brought him, with others, to the American continents. There can be no doubt that some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were honest in heart, and Jeremiah may have accomplished much good in strengthening these individuals. We know Jeremiah primarily for his unwavering denunciation of evil; but he was certainly aware of this positive side of his calling. The first verses of the book of Jeremiah relate his call as a prophet; the Lord tells him, “See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build and to plant” (Jer. 1:10; italics added).
Our success in reversing the trends of our times may be no greater than was Jeremiah’s. But, like Jeremiah and other prophets who preached repentance to Judah, we can influence many people for good. We can strengthen our families and, through the missionary programs of the Church, help many honest people understand how the Lord would have them live. Even if we are unable to eradicate evil, we can help many good people to escape its influence.
Third, Jeremiah’s efforts provided a timeless example for all people. Although Jeremiah did not bring Judah to repent, and he did not avert the destruction of Jerusalem, the beneficial consequences of his life have been incalculably great. Jeremiah’s unwavering dedication to the Lord and his own personal brilliance are obvious in his forceful and moving denunciations of sin. (see Jer. 2; Jer. 7; Jer. 13; Jer. 16–17; Jer. 19.)Consequently, while the worship of Baal is today only a historical curiosity, Jeremiah’s writings continue to be meaningful. Jeremiah’s message far transcends the evils against which it was directed and continues to influence us in situations that Jeremiah himself might not have fully expected. Can anyone question whether Jeremiah, although persecuted and possibly martyred by the worshippers of Baal, achieved the final victory?
In one sense, our problems today, like Jeremiah’s difficulties of twenty-five centuries ago, may have no immediate solution. Our challenge is to engage these problems with all the resources with which we have been blessed, with totally unwavering dedication to the Lord. We can be uncompromising in resisting evil. We can strengthen our families. We can seek to be led by righteous persons, and we can inform them of our views on current issues. We can extend to all people the opportunity to hear the truth and to unite in its support.
Then we must trust in the Lord—and can anyone question to whom the final victory will belong?