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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jeremiah 29:11 - Too Often Misused

I went to the Hawaiian Islands Ministry Conference tonight. As any good, anticipatory student, I went online to preview the classes being offered and tentatively set my schedule for the weekend. Then, I arrived at the conference, chucked my previous workshop selections and chose one that had not even crossed my radar before that moment. This blog is in response to that seminar. However, I was dealing with God during most of it, so don't expect this to be notes from the speaker. He triggered a conversation between God and I, and that conversation is the topic of this blog.

The basic question addressed in the workshop surrounded the hope offered in Jeremiah 29:11. It is a scripture quoted often to those feeling down, discouraged, in despair, or any other number of "d" words. We try to encourage one another with the words, "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and bring you a hope" yada yada yada.

Now, please don't get me wrong. I love God's word and this is a great verse, but I don't think it was intended to be used to explain why things should go right for us in the world. There are a couple of problems with that use of this particular promise.

1) This was not addressed to an individual. The promise was given to a nation of people. From the little we know about Jewish history from that time (and even hints given later in the text), we can conclude that there were individuals among those who received this promise who did not live to see this promise fulfilled for them. They did not return from Exile. They did not prosper. The nation, however, did return from Exile. Did they prosper? I suppose it depends on how you look at it?

2) This promise is proceeded by God telling the nation that they would be in captivity 70 years. Hhhmmmm. That doesn't sound like a promise offered for tomorrow - or immediate relief.

If you know me well, you have probably heard me mention before that the one thing that sticks out to me about Southern Gospel music is their focus on Heaven. This life is what it is. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad, sometimes we just feel like we are walking around in a cloud, not knowing if things are good or bad. But we know Who and what wait for us. We know that, one day, "It Will Be Worth It All."

It was good to be reminded to look at life from an eternal perspective. And to be reminded that I am part of a plan much bigger than myself. That somehow, God has figured out the balance between using me to further His plan and not allowing anything to push me past what I can handle. (Corinthians)

I have trouble with the theology that because God is good, He will only cause good things to happen. I think, ultimately, that is a true statement. The problem is that we don't always recognize "good." God, seeing the entire picture, is the only one who can truly diagnose "good."

A couple other thoughts came to mind as I was listening.

1) If God has a purpose for me, I want to be here to fulfill it. I say this with much fear and trepidation because I don't really want to be tortured to death or captured and beaten within an inch of my life. But I do want to be a piece of God's plan. I think of David and shudder with new understanding of the words, "I will not offer anything that cost me nothing." I am an American. Not only do I not like suffering, I am personally offended by it. Yet Christians all over the world endure it in a variety of forms.

2) I think Joshua 1:9 provides a promise I can more readily apply to troubled times. "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged. For the LORD, your God, is with you where ever you go." (Loose translation.)

3) God is with me. He has a plan. His plan is big and someday I am going to get to see what my role was in said plan. For now, my job is to trust. I will ask for good things, because my Father is good. But I will do my best not to assume that I always know what is good.

4) God, the master at oxymorons, somehow manages to communicate, "It's not all about you!" with a healthy dose of "I have numbered all the hairs on your head," kind of intimacy mixed in.

I don't really have a conclusion, so feel free to write one of your own, as you comment. :-)