O Lord, You have seduced me,
And I am seduced;
You have raped me
And I am overcome.
That is Abraham Heschel’s translation of Jeremiah 20:7, usually translated as “deceived.” Heschel, possibly the most famous commentator on the Old Testament prophets, explains that the two Hebrew words, patah and hazak mean, in succession, “wrongfully inducing a woman to consent to prenuptial intercouse” and “the violent forcing of a woman to submit to extranuptial intercourse, which is thus performed against her will.”
So how could Jeremiah accuse God of such horrendous, unspeakable things? The question arises when we consider, not those evils that God allows to happen to us but does not intend, but difficult things that God seems to intend to offer to the choice of our freedom, even though they seem extremely painful at the time. Jeremiah seems to experience this Divine Violation in regards to his own vocation. So what is Jeremiah getting at? Elsewhere, in Jeremiah 15:16, he exclaims:
Your words were found, and I ate them,
Your words became to me a joy,
The delight of my heart.
No victim of rape would ever say such a thing, even decades after the experience. Such an experience could never never be remembered as one of “joy” and “delight.” So what Jeremiah is referring to is the severe feeling of violation that often comes from serving God. Sometimes a vocation feels like the utmost violation to human freedom. And yet the great paradox is that it is this feeling of violation alone that actually opens up the human heart to true freedom. Any child in relationship with his or her parents, any husband and wife in their relationship to one another, any religious subject in his or her relationship with the religious superior will experience thisfeeling of violation, of seduction and force, of manipulation of one’s own vocation. Yet what takes place when this happens is that it is precisely through the experience of this violation, when accepted, that the space for authentic freedom opens up and the possibility of Hell in us is overcome. It is not rape, but it is painful love, and it often feels like a profound violation of the self.
The most recent experience of this in my own life came when I was told that I would not go to study Theology at the Javeriana, the Jesuit University in Bogota, Colombia. I felt deeply violated in my vow of obedience. I had trusted and had been seduced. I had believed that I would be sent there, and I was firmly convinced that it was the will of God. I was not manipulated, nor was I forced to accept. But it felt that way. And yet God was widening my capacity for authentic freedom. The immediate result was anger and frustration. The long term result was deep peace and trust in my vocation.
In the midst of my frustration and own personal agony, I read a story about Pedro Arrupe directly after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He had turned the Jesuit novitiate into a hospital and was ministering to a man who was entirely covered in burns. Arrupe was hesitant to help him as he could see that he was only causing more agony for him. But this Japanese man turned to Arrupe and told him:
Father, don’t hesitate to hurt me. I can take it, just please save me.
This became my prayer for many months afterwards, repeated word to word to my Father. And he came through.
Like the nails driven into the hands of Christ, these apparent violations of our perceived vocations that we choose to accept will open us up. They will part our flesh, first to bleeding, second to death, and finally to a deeper freedom experienced in vocation. We are told that Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered. We should expect nothing less.