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. ~Jeremiah 29:11
It suppose it is
unacceptable unexpected for a preacher not to like a particular Bible verse. And surely it shouldn’t be a verse that is among the favorite and most quoted verses such as the above passage in Jeremiah. But it’s true.
We are often drawn to a passage (or look away from one) because of some experience associated with that verse. In 2008 I bought a picture frame with a graduate’s hat and that verse written on it. In that frame I was going to put our son’s picture. He died a few days before graduation and that picture frame is now in the infamous ‘yard sale box’ (that’s fodder for another post!). No picture went in that frame … for in our loss we could not put together the idea of God’s great plans for welfare, future, and hope with our loss.
And whenever I hear someone quote that verse, I almost always want to challenge it. Then I remember – that’s in God’s Word – it’s not just frilly sentimentality.
Now before you feel the need to give me guidance so I can like this verse again, I do recognize that John Robert is enjoying the future and hope that God has for all of us – a life in heaven with him forever. “Hope” is very much a part of my vocabulary!
I still do not enjoy the verse because of the connection with the picture frame (representing our loss)…but also because of the context of when I usually hear this verse come up in conversation. Typically it is when we are perplexed and some cheerful perky person wants to relieve the tension by pointing out that God has a plan for everyone. In reality this verse says that God has a plan for his people carried away in the Babylonian exile. It’s a great passage of hope and courage. It’s not a promise to any one individual, then or now.
In principle, though, God does have a plan. He wants us to come to heaven and live with Him forever. He knew the price was so high that we could never pay it. Jesus came to pay the price for us through his death, burial, and resurrection. This is the ‘good news’ that we are to share. When it is believed and obeyed, then new life is ours (Mark 16:15-16 “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”) There is hope!
Plucking Bible verses from their context and sprinkling them into difficult settings in order to try to alleviate pain runs counter to intention. It can actually bring more pain. Like the person at the funeral home who can’t stop talking about Romans 8:28. It insinuates that if you hurt, cry, experience pain that you are just ignoring God’s good news for your life.
The truth is that we need some Gethsemane time before we can celebrate the resurrection.