For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The first time I remember hearing Jeremiah 29:11 was when I was in college at APU. This verse was emblazoned everywhere. I loved it. It was so hopeful…so encouraging…so out of context?
My Bible-scholar friends harp on this verse being taken out of its original context and applied to Christians today. Sure, it was part of a prophecy written to Israel in exile, but it doesn’t bother me all that much that people apply God’s message for Israel then to God’s people today.
It was only in my latest reading of Jeremiah that I was struck by what was so wrong about taking this verse out of context. In the immediate context, God is encouraging his people to settle in Babylon: build houses, marry, have children. Basically, he is telling them, “Live your lives in exile and don’t listen to people who tell you that this isn’t my plan for you for the next 70 years.”
This passage is all the more encouraging when taken in its context because it offers hope in the midst of dark circumstances. Jeremiah 29:11 doesn’t mean that life is peachy when you belong to God. God’s people needed a big picture view of his plans for their lives. The Lord ultimately had good plans for them, but they were going to have to wait and persevere in the meantime.
The Bible says that Christians are aliens and strangers in this world, too. Much as I wish turning our lives over to Christ would mean a peachy existence in the here and now, it doesn’t. We, too, need a big picture view of his plans. Even in exile, we need to live our lives and pray for the world we live in all while holding on to hope for God’s ultimate plan (his return, final judgment, and new heaven & earth) to come about. That is our hope and future.