Cheer Up, Champ. (HUGE eye roll)

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?

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12 comments

  1. I agree. Following Christ is not always a picnic, and it’s not really about me. I’m in a situation that will most likely not get better. I’m looking for God’s glory in this…not mine. It really is not fun tho. I know that the real fun is in eternity with the King. It makes me long for my true home.

  2. Hi !! I enjoyed this and was led to it by reading a similar post on another page about lazy christian advice… I completely agree with the thought that saying “everything will be fine, God has a plan for you” and leaving it at that is quite a brush off and does little to lift the heart of the person these words are spoken to, no matter how well intended the thought. That being said.. I also think that the Bible is truly a Living Word… meaning that God will reach the individual through verses that may not have been originally intended directly to that person. If you are feeling ‘exiled’ it would bring you comfort to read how God interacted with others he has loved that have also been exiled… this of course is different than God speaking that verse to us directly – which is where the misquoting and intention of the verse comes into play. I, for one, find great comfort in Paul’s declaration of self struggle.. fighting his own humaness…does this mean the conversations he had with our Father dont apply to me because he and God had their own relationship? — I cant say for sure.. But I think If God wants me to Know or Feel something he will lead me through his Living Word…..

  3. Wow … I hope it’s OK to disagree with you here. Jeremiah 29:11 gave me great hope and peace back in 1992(ish). This verse empowered me many, many times to “be still and know that He is God.” In fact, I’m clinging pretty tightly to those verses and other similar promises right now. They don’t enable me to look forward to escaping unpleasant circumstances, but to endure them with the knowledge that it’s all part of the process of growing and living out God’s plan for me. And they serve to increase my faith. To declare now that those promises do not apply to me because they were not directed at me would nullify a lot of the Bible on the same grounds. I mean … Paul’s letters were not addressed to me either, you know?

    • Yes, but Paul’s letters were addressed to churches going through the same type things we are. Jeremiah goes on in the next couple chapters saying things like “I will restore the tents of Jacob…” and “you shall again plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria” There’s no questioning who this is written to- the group of Jews in exile, referring to their future generations.

      This verse in particular is as specific as you can get. If one can apply it to his or her self, why not go the whole way and apply all verses are are to other plural “you”s that say you will be absolutely destroyed or wiped off the face of the Earth?

      I think it’s all right to glean from the verse the knowledge that God can and will restore some things- that he has the power to do so. But to say that God has specific good will for your individual success is dangerous and makes God out to look like a liar.

      Since you bring Paul up, let’s use him as an example- was his repeated punishment something we, outside of putting God’s kingdom first, would say is a good-willed future hope? His shipwreck? His house arrest? His eventual beheading?

      I think it’s great that you are clinging to verses for hope and submission to God’s will. I suggest that you cling to Psalm 46:10 rather than Jeremiah 29:11 for that, though.

      There is a verse that is sort of like Jeremiah 29:11 that you could look into, but I’m careful about that one, too. Proverbs 23:18 says “Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” But, again, we have to attach it the its adjacent verses which speak of seeking and knowing God’s truth, not envying sinners, and generally using wisdom. It’s a kind of commentary that adds up to “Instead of envying sinners and getting drunk, use wisdom and seek God’s truth. It is in this path of righteousness that we have a future that cannot be cut off.” And that kind of future most be eternity.

  4. Thank you for such clear writing!
    In my experience I often hear people say, “You know the Bible says that God won’t put any more on you than you can handle.” I ask them to show me where it says that and of course they can’t, because it doesn’t, and I ask them if they think that Mary, seeing her son being crucified was something she could “handle.” Or David’s life, or Job, or the woman they know whose son accidently ran over his own child and then killed himself. I am glad that I know that I can depend on God to be present at all times in the lives of those who call on the Christ, both in the times I can “handle” and in the times I am desperately lost.

    • Thanks Laine. Yes, it’s easy to romanticize those accounts from the Bible, too. So, as unfortunate as it is, it helps to point out those stories from people we actually know.

    • Just to help aid in the understanding here. The verse that people are typically referring to when they say that is 1 Corithians 10:13. I definitely agree that while verse memorization is invaluable in spiritual growth and having God’s word on our minds all the time, you have to be careful to understand the context of the verse as well or else you are taking the word of God out of context and changing his meaning in the words to what you want them to say. That’s why it is important to know the scriptures yourself to be able to learn from someone’s thoughts on a verse or correct when necessary. I think that 1 Corithians 10:13 is a great verse to think about when you look at it in the context of temptation and also relate it back to when Jesus was tempted just like us in the desert portrayed in Luke and Matthew.

  5. Not a suggestion but rather a question… this bad boy: “You aren’t given anything you can’t handle.

  6. Sorry, my phone kinda screwed up.

    Before my phone posted before I was done. I was going to say: the most frustrating thing during my job hunt were people who were doing quite well to say to ‘God has a plan’ or something to that effect. True, I agree with the statement God is in control and has a plan, but when you are down and out that is pretty much the worse thing I could hear.

    • Thanks for your comment, Chris! Good to hear from an old friend.

      Yeah, I had a similar experience. On top of not being what I wanted/needed to hear, the response of “God has a plan for this” felt lazy and uninspired. It felt like the person saying that should have actually prayed for me or done something to love on me. But just saying something like that felt like he or she was blaming God, not the brokenness of this world.

  7. Chadwick, I think you get it.

    I remember when I was out of work for a fairly long time and was struggling with money (to the point where my credit is trashed and will be for the next while). I am slowly working my way out of debit, and with any luck will be doing that for awhile. However, the most disheartening thing I ever heard while looking for work and trying to figure out how to but groceries


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