What can be said about this pandemic is that it's certainly highlighted the uneasiness of being human in a whole new way. There is a tension between life and death that always seems to get the best of us. And yet, we are constantly surprised when it does.
A few years ago I got to experience such tension when I went from presiding over funeral of someone whose death was completely unexpected to officiate a wedding that had been planned months in advanced. I had less than an hour in between the two to shift gears. As I hustled my way from one venue to the next, I was reminded of the depth of beautiful life God has given for us to experience.
Both of these events had its own set of emotions. Along with the expected outpouring of love, there was also a sense of hope and promise, that God was ever present taking care of things. This is the sense of assurance that we find in today’s reading from Jeremiah.
God has more of a desire and will for us then a plan. a way for everyone to live in the beauty of God’s grace and love.
Instead, (Read Jeremiah 29) God told the prophet Jeremiah to write a letter to the captives and tell them it would be 70 years before relief would come. He instructed God’s people to settle in for the long haul – find work, buy houses, get married and buried there.
In other words, “Buckle up, it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride.”
That’s not what any of us want to hear -especially not with what we’re going through right now. We want God to get rid of this pandemic quickly, so we can get back to doing what we’ve always done. We wanted corona will be a beer again. In his letter, Jeremiah adds these words of encouragement that we can take to heart. Words that will help us cling to hope when those emotions of hopelessness come around.
"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." - Jeremiah 29:11
This is not to say there isn’t hope in these words, there are. God’s not going to leave us out to dry. But when God’s plans doesn’t aligned with ours – who gets blamed? God does.
Nobody plans for a life altering pandemic any more than one pencils in their own funeral on a calendar. We plan weddings, vacations, graduations and holiday festivities. But things happen. Couples break up. Hurricanes close airports. And pandemics cancel important events. Are we to believe that this all part of God’s great plan?
It seem out of character for a loving God to have a “plan” that involves wiping out tens of thousands of people with a brutal virus. That’s Old Testament God, the one who killed first born males, and made it rain locus and fire. Maybe God had reasons for a massive flood, but it’s hard to believe it involved my brother in law getting cancer, or for a child to experience trauma and abuse. I once read “If every life event is being directed and controlled by God, then God is really bad at making plans.” (Cory 2016)
I do believe something bigger is going on. Whatever it is we just need to buckle up and be ready wherever we are. Jeremiah says hope is coming, but it’s not always going to come easy. God makes a promise for our welfare, but nowhere does the prophet say it will be comfortable all the time.
Is suffering part of the plan? Is that what God wants from us?
As Israel’s story reminds us, real hope often comes through a tremendous amount of pain and suffering; the hardest part of our faith. Maybe God planned it that way so we could experience life fully, ...with all the highs and lows and everything in between. I can’t pretend to know why there is suffering in our world. But I do know that our greatest strengths are often birthed from our darkest days.
Even when I can’t see it, I believe hope exists, living in the tension between my plans and God’s purpose for me. And I say God’s purpose because to be honest, I don’t see any of this as “a plan” per se. It’s way too messy and unpredictable. I think God has more of a desire and will for us then a plan. A way for everyone to live in the beauty of God’s grace and love.
Chris Blumhofer reminds us, “Whatever God wills and desires to bring into reality, is always beautiful.” Which tells me we need to look at the beauty of what’s happening in our live instead of looking for blame. So perhaps it’s not that we need to escape our suffering, but learn to search for God’s beauty in the midst of whatever it is we are going through.
What does God’s desire and will for us look like?
I think it’s safe to say it is to live in God’s love, and to be the love of God in the world. When we love others like God loves us then we don’t hoard toilet paper. Love is a great equalizer. A kind of virus that affects us all, and does not discriminate. It’s something none of should fear but should all catch.
But just because we have love us doesn’t mean our life will be absent of suffering. Whenever we love deeply, we will also suffer deeply because of that love. No one knows this better than Jesus, the perfect manifestation of God’s love in the world. For him to do God’s will would cost him his life. Yet, ironically, it is what gives us new life, new hope.
I’ll admit that this doesn’t explain why suffering is essential or necessary. But if we look to Jesus as our example, then we know we’re given the assurance that God does not abandon us in our suffering, but instead God’s love remains with us, in the tension, making the experience beautiful.
When you render someone’s suffering to a platitude that sounds good in a greeting card, you aren’t lessening their pain, you are merely diminishing the truth that our most fruitful growth comes while persevering through trials, not escaping them.
As Jesus demonstrated, real joy and peace can never be reached while bypassing suffering and death, but only by going right through them. Before the wondrous beauty of the resurrection there was the horrific brutality of the cross. In spite of all the darkness in our lives, we must never lose sight of that light of hope and bright future that shines far beyond the parameters of this life.
God is not winging it or making it up on the fly. The resurrection was not an afterthought, but was intentionally created for us, so that we could have hope in good times and bad. Yes, God is up to something, hard at work making life and love one in the same.
"This was the entire mission of Christ," writes Richard Rohr, “life morphing into love” until they become one with the One who gave us eternal life out of great love for us. To be in and like Christ is God’s purpose for us. Christ is the One through which God revealed the blueprint of all life, where hope and grace and love were already included.
In the ancient book of Lamentations, it’s written, "Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning" (Lam. 3:21-23).
When everything is dark, and life seems hopeless or fearful, we can look to Christ and find salvation in God’s love which sustains us. We may not know when hope will come or how? But we can turn our eyes to the Cross of Christ and know what it looks like.
As the Christ, Jesus lived into love by submitting his will to do God’s will. His purpose was to show us the way to live into love faithfully and fearlessly; in times of certainty and uncertainty, through joy and through suffering, in life and in death. In Christ we come to see and realize that “love is who we are and who we are still becoming” (Rohr).
If God has a plan for us, I think it’s for love and life to become one with God. Love is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega and everything in between. So buckle up and settle in. Life is going to be bumpy. And that you can plan on.
Bible: Jeremiah 29:10-14 (New Revised Standard Version).
Blumhofer, Chris. relevantmagazine.com. December 10, 2010. (accessed October 13, 2016).
Cory, Benjamin. patheos.com. May 24, 2016. (accessed October 13, 2016).
DeMuth, Mary. www.marydemuth.com . Sept 10, 2015. (accessed Oct 13, 2016).
Rohr, Richard. Yes, And. (Cincinnati: Franciscan, 2013 ) p. 128.