It is that time of year—graduations left and right! This time of year often brings about encouraging notes and cards. Sometimes, well-meaning Christians will pencil in Jeremiah 29:11 with a note that says, “I know God has great things in store for you!”
This message is not limited to graduations. Growing up, I knew many people who memorized Jeremiah 29:11 as a promise for themselves that God would bless them and give them good things:
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.
I do not want to play the role of Debbie Downer, but I do want to point out how we are often guilty of misusing verses like this.
The first thing I want to point out is that this verse was written specifically to the nation of Israel. Although it may be tempting to want to apply this verse to your life in an overly specific way, we need to understand things in their context. Do you also want to apply 2 Kings 21:14? Jeremiah 29 promises blessing and 2 Kings 21 promises exile. If we take the same principles of selection that some use for Jeremiah 29 then it seems we would have to take God’s promise in 2 Kings 21 as well.
Secondly, the promise in Jeremiah 29:11 is not about only blessing. This may shock some people, but verse 10 comes before verse 11. Verse 10 promises that the people of Israel must undergo 70 years of captivity before the Lord will bring them back to their land. So, even in the midst of this promise of blessing, it does not negate the fact that God disciplines his people or even the fact that bad things must happen. We ought to be aware that blessing might very well include times of trouble. Scripture speaks often of both trials and discipline that believers must undergo (cf. Jam 1:2-4; 2 Tim 3:12; Heb 12:5).
What is the point of me saying all of this? I simply want us to treat the Word of God sensitively. We have no right to make God’s Word mean whatever we want it to mean. Scripture was written in a specific time, in a specific place, to a specific people. Each passage has one intended meaning, and that meaning is inspired by God’s authority. We ought to be careful in how we use God’s Word. We are under obligation to apply Scripture, but that does not always mean inserting ourselves into the ancient audience. There are other ways Scripture must be applied. And I believe this passage can and should give the believer comfort.
Jeremiah 29 gives a template for how God interacts with his people. Although we are not the people of Israel, God’s faithfulness does extend beyond the people of Israel to the Church. We can read Jeremiah 29:11 and meditate on the fact that God is a God who is faithful to his promises. He is a God who is defined by compassion and a desire for his people to experience good (cf. Rom 8:29-30). Thus, we know that God (as an unchanging person) continues to exercise those characteristics of his personality. In this way, we still receive the comfort many desire. We also have used proper means of biblical interpretation without forcing a passage into our own lives. As always, the means matter as much as the ends.
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