It never fails.
If ever one is sad, depressed, stressed, or just in a tight spot and around enough Christians, someone is going to comfort you by quoting Jeremiah 29:11. It will go something like this:
Hey there, Champ, (side hug, shoulder pat, or playful slow chin punch). Listen… I know things are looking down right now. But I have full faith that you’re going to get everything you ever wanted and more. Remember what the Bible says in Jeremiah 29: ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ So, cheer up, champ. God says you’re A-OK.
Wow. So, basically, God intends good things alone for my life. Pretty encouraging stuff.
But it’s kind of a lie.
We all kind of sense that, right? That we are being lied to? This encouragement just feels so weak. So designed to brush off adversity. This kind of encouragement, though, this felt like an excuse to abandon difficult tasks. Like, if God had plans for me to prosper and to fill me with such hope, why should I really even try at anything, right? After all, God’s going to take care of it. And if I’m allowed to apply this verse to whomever I want, that means everyone is destined for an easy, painless life. But, and I don’t think this is a secret, we’re all going to die. Besides that, how can I expect such a rosy life when Christ himself died a severe death after walking around homeless all throughout his ministry?
These questions need answering. So a while back when I started reading the Bible for myself, I sought to see what God had to say about it. Here’s what I found:
This one sentence isn’t meant for you or me. Or, at least not in the sense that we’ve been applying it. The “you” in this verse is directed at Jewish exiles in Babylon during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar. And even then, it’s not really meant to be understood as an individual hope for each life, but as a hope that the Jewish people will not be cut off from the future. This is saying that their bloodline will continue- that their people will return to their homeland.
Check it out when put in context:
For thus says the LORD: when seventy years are completed in Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to [Israel]. For I know the plans I have of you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:10-14)
Most can see this is clearly a letter to the Jews in exile, even if you skipped over the title “Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles” that most Bible printing companies put at the beginning of chapter 29.
And, to top it off, the entire chapter before this one speaks against a false prophet who tells people what they need to hear to feel better. The false prophet Hananiah died within a year for “uttering rebellion against the LORD.”
Hmm. Maybe we ought to take our readings of this book more seriously.
Look, I like encouraging people. But I don’t want to lie. Being a Christian is hard. Suffering for people can be difficult. Giving up selfish desires can be painful. Sometimes we Christians die in trying to reach the lost. Christ did.
So if you want to cheer me up, remind me that I’ve been rescued by the loving God. Help me remember that I’m part of an eternal kingdom. Give me a refreshing attitude that has me seeing everything I do as a way to glorify God. Give me the comfort to know that the cup I drink from is God’s will, and that living in the center of God’s will is the one true way to live.
If we could do that, if we could keep in mind that the Kingdom is greater than our comfort, then we’ll all be more likely to grin in the face of adversity, not look forward to escaping it.
Have you noticed other woefully misquoted verses in your reading?