God’s people have witnessed Jerusalem and their beloved Temple be completely destroyed by foreign invaders. And now they’ve been hauled off into exile in Babylon. There is a sense of dread and abandonment among them. And, as you can imagine, all hope seems lost.
Speaking through a teenage prophet, God offers up some words of encouragement - telling the exiles to hold tight, “Surely I know the plans I have for you.”
Sadly, I believe this is where we get that platitude “Don’t worry, God has a plan for you.” (I'll admit I hate that saying, just saying.)
This particular verse of promise and hope is bittersweet for me. On one hand it gives me the assurance that whatever circumstances I’m facing today, God already has a way to change my tomorrow. God isn’t going to leave me out to dry. On the other hand, what happens when my plans and God’s plans don’t match up?
No one plans for a child to pass away at a young age. Instead, we plan vacations, graduations, and holiday festivities. Some brides plan weddings months and even years in advance. But nowhere in that plan is a trip to the emergency room. So, whenever I hear someone tell a person in grief that “God has a plan” it makes me want to scream.
How does a God of infinite love have a “plan” that involves wiping out thousands in a tsunami? Where does cancer, or child abuse, fit into any blueprint of life?
“If every life event is being directed and controlled by God,” writes Ben Cory, “then God is really bad at making plans.”
It’s hard for me to believe God has a master calendar where everything is divinely mapped out like a weekly dinner menu. In a world of such brokenness, this simply cannot be true. Because then it would seem like God is just passing the time by making bad stuff happen. Why would God do that?
I’m not saying God isn’t in control of all life, there’s plenty of scripture, including this particular passage, that give us that certainty.
Notice what the Lord said though through Jeremiah, “I have a plan for your welfare, and not your harm, to give you a future with hope.” God cares for our welfare but isn’t really concerned for our comfort. While God promises us hope, there is no promise it’ll be easy.
Real hope, it seems, is born through our pain and suffering. That’s the cruel irony of faith. It’s often only after we lose something dear to us that we rely on God or call on God for help and salvation.
So, next time you try to comfort someone by saying, “God has a plan,” you might want to add, “so buckle up because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
As for Jeremiah, he is literally standing in that space between God’s promise and hope, trying to make sense of it all. His home has been wiped out. His families and friends have been killed or carted off. The prosperity God’s people once enjoyed is no more. Life seems hopeless. Why continue onward?
Jeremiah writes this letter in part because he's responding to another prophet, Hananiah, who has told everyone that God is going to restore Israel within two years. This got the people excited. It gave them something to look forward to in the immediate future. The one problem with Hananiah’s prophecy is that it simply wasn’t true. It was a political stunt. God had no plan like that. Instead, God said relief would come but not for another 70 years.
Jeremiah instructs the exiles to settle in, to get married, plant vineyards, and to seek prosperity in Babylon. Yes, salvation and restoration will come. But it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride, so buckle up.
The good news I see isn’t in the length of time it takes for God to do things. It’s in the promise that God doesn’t leave us waiting in vain. God said, “When you search for me, you will find me.”
Not only does this give me hope, but it allows me to trust that God is with me in every situation. God never leaves us to deal with our mess alone. The reason is simple. God has always desired a relationship with us. From the first pages of the Bible to the last, God is always ready to meet us where were are, - loving us no matter what.
The way I see it, God doesn’t have a grand plan as much as God has a will and desire for us. It’s God’s desire to love us unconditionally. And it’s God’s will for us to do the same with one another. But this doesn’t mean we will abide.
Still no matter where we are in life, whatever good or bad choices we make, we are always in the fullness of God’s love to help us “thrive in the midst of whatever it is we are going through.” (DeMuth 2015)
In this space between yesterday’s promise and tomorrow’s hope, we are given the assurance that we are never beyond the boundaries of God’s love. Whatever problems you’re experiencing, whatever pain you’re going through, our Lord says seek me faithfully and you will find me there.
When life pushes you down, God is always ready to lift you back up - loving you through every heartache and pain. This is good news because, as most of us can attests, it’s in these difficult places we move closer to and rely more on God’s power. My most fruitful growth has come through experiencing difficulties with God and not by escaping them.
Just as Jesus demonstrated on Calvary, real hope is birthed through a tremendous amount of pain and suffering. Before the wondrous beauty of the resurrection there was the horrific brutality of the cross.
In spite of all the darkness we experience, we must never lose sight of that light of hope and the bright future that shines far beyond the parameters of this life. Yes, it’s going to get bumpy from time to time…so buckle up. But know that as you move through it there is a divine light leading the way forward.
God is here, in our midst, for anyone who calls out. For it is God desires to be with us, to love on all of life. And the will of God is for us to do the same…with all of life…the good and the bad.
If God does have a specific master plan, then I believe it would be what John the Evangelist figured out: Love one another as God first loved us (1 John 4:19).
It’s through the love that God gave to us in Christ Jesus, that all of life is restored to its fullness and completion. You see, I don’t believe the resurrection was not an afterthought. I think it was intentionally created for us, so that we could remain in relationship with God, not just in Anamesa but throughout all space and time.
God’s desire and will for the world was well-planned ahead; giving us exactly what we need to get us through the struggles we are bound to experience.
By this simple act God will redeem and restore our fortunes, bringing us back from where we came - the very heart of our Salvation.
As Henri Nouwen so prophetically proclaimed, “If we believe love comes from God, then love will return to God. When we die, we will lose everything that life gave us except for that gift of love.”
It is Love that binds us to God. It is Love that binds us to one another. For Love is the beginning and the end of life’s greatest and only real plan.
May we use it always as the foundation for becoming who we are and always will be God’s beloved sons and daughters.
A revisit on a sermon entitled Plan Ahead on October 16, 2016.
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).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”