Whenever we tell someone, “It’s God’s plan,”
we should add, “So buckle up- it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
As you can imagine, these were two completely different events, each with its own set of emotions. Along with the expected outpouring of love, there was also a sense of hope and promise; the very undertones of assurance that we find in Jeremiah 29:11,
“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.”
This popular bible verse is often used to provide comforting words of promise. Whatever circumstances we face today, we know God has a plan to change our tomorrow. And that’s gotta make you feel good, right? To know God isn’t going to leave you out to dry… like a sheep among wolves.
But what happens when your plans and God’s plans don’t match up?
Let’s face it, no one plans for a child or spouse to pass away at such a young age. Instead we plan vacations, graduations, open houses, and holiday festivities.
Some brides plan weddings months, if not years, in advance. They might even go so far as to have a backup plan in case the weather changes. But nowhere in that plan is there a trip to the emergency room. I mean, come on, what bride would book the ICU to mark the most important day of her life? As we all know, things can radically change, for better or for worse.
Whenever I hear myself say to someone grieving, “Well, I’m sure it’s part of God’s plan,” I shake my head wondering, “How I could believe such a thing?”
It seems so out of character for a loving God to have a “plan” that involves wiping out thousands in earthquakes and tsunamis, giving people cancer, parents losing children, car accidents, trauma, abuse, and all manner of pain and suffering. I don’t get it. To quote Benjamin Cory, “If every life event is being directed and controlled by God, then God is really bad at making plans.” (Cory 2016)
I’m not convinced God has a giant master calendar where everything that happens in life is divinely mapped out like a school schedule or 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, or that God hasn’t known me since I was knitted in my mother’s womb; the scriptures give us that assurance. But I find it hard to believe God’s plan is as sugary and sweet as we often make it out to be.
Jeremiah’s words do promise hope, but there is no promise that it’ll be easy. The promise is for your welfare, and no harm, but nowhere does it say you will be comfortable all the time. Real hope, as we learned last week, often comes through a tremendous amount of pain and suffering; the hardest part of faith. It’s cruel irony that our greatest strengths are mostly birthed from our darkest days.
But it’s in these tough times we rely more on God, and discover who we’re called to be. Whenever we casually comfort someone by saying, “It’s God’s plan,” we should also add, “So buckle up- it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
Too often we throw around Jeremiah’s words with false hope, expecting quick results. We do so because we often take his words out of context. Had we read the chapter before, we’d get a better sense of God’s promise to his people, and what it means to us today.
So here’s what you need to know. The Jewish people disobeyed God in every possible way, and as a direct result of that disobedience, God sent them into Babylonian exile. In chapter 28, there’s a theological throw-down between the prophet Jeremiah and another prophet named Hananiah, who claims God is going to restore Israel within two years.
This is about as realistic as any politician who promises to rebuild the economy or secure our country all by himself. To the Jews, this certainly sounded good. And in the short term would make Hananiah very popular with the people who are suffering in captivity. But it wasn’t true. God told Jeremiah he had no plans to make everything better in two years. Instead, it would be 70 years before relief would eventually come.
In chapter 29, Jeremiah writes a letter to the exiles, encouraging them to settle in, marry and bury, to plant vineyards, and to seek the prosperity of their current place. God had spoken. Restoration will come. Buckle up and have faith, it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride.
Chris Blumhofer argues that it’s not so much “a plan” that God makes, but a desire and will for us. In other words, whatever God wills, and whatever God desires to bring into reality, is always beautiful whether we know it or not. It gives our life, and the events within it, purpose and meaning. “It’s not that we would escape our lot, but that we would learn to thrive in the midst of whatever it is we are going through.” (DeMuth 2015)
I do not know why suffering is essential to who we are as people. But the word of God gives us promise and hope that God does not abandon us. God is with us through it all; not masterminding the events, but experiencing them with us. God’s relationship with us is personal and intimate. He cares for every intricate detail of our lives. Jesus said, “even the hairs on your head are numbered…” in my case, all six of them.
Think about this in terms of where our church is today. There is hope on the horizon; we just cannot plan on when it will come. Instead we have to settle into our situation, and do the hard work of faith. Too often, however, we want freedom, but we don’t want our exile to create it. We want to be strong in Jesus, but we don’t want to carry the cross he carried. We want healing without pain.
But as we walk out our lives through this crazy earth, let us not forget that our most fruitful growth comes through persevering through trials, not escaping them entirely. As Jesus demonstrated on Calvary, before the wondrous beauty of the resurrection came the horrific brutality of the cross.
Our faith in God through Jesus Christ offers us the hope-filled promise that something better is on the horizon. 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.
If “all scripture is divinely inspired by God,” as the Apostle writes in his letter to Timothy, then we have this assurance: that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day we reign with Christ Jesus forever and ever.
This is the good news! Life will be restored fully and completely, the way God intended since the beginning of creation. The resurrection was not an after thought. It was intentionally created for us, so that we could remain with God throughout eternity.
God’s will was well-planned ahead, well in advance, to give us what we need to get us through the struggles we are bound to experience. Jeremiah’s letter tells us that in both sweet and difficult times, we are to search God with our whole hearts, and he will redeem and restore our fortunes, bringing us back to where we first came; his divine love.
As Henri Nouwen so prophetically claimed, “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.”
As you leave here today, remember the words that I gave to both the grieving family and the celebratory newlyweds, love is what binds us to God. Love is what binds us to one another. Love is the beginning and the end of life’s greatest plan.
Works CitedBible Jeremiah 29:10-14; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5.
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).