“For I know the thoughts that I think about you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (The Complete Jewish Bible Jeremiah 29:11)
This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, often quoted to those suffering trial and tribulation, and to those whose future is wide open; those looking for direction in life. The Bible, I believe, is a living document. It is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago; relevant on a personal and corporate level. Even though I have made it perfectly clear that the entire Bible, in my opinion, is not God-breathed since it was written and interpreted by man, I still believe gold can be mined from the historical accounts and allegory found within its pages. God still speaks.
Jeremiah 29 was a letter written to those living in exile in Babylon for 70 years. God tells His people to settle in, marry, have children, and trust Him with their future. Think about that for a moment. What would your reaction be to someone telling you to settle into captivity trusting that your future was well in hand? Huh? “So, God, let me get this straight, I’m supposed to settle into a land of enemies and carry on as if life is going great and be content with this for the next 70 years?” Most would live out the rest of their lives in captivity with the nebulous promise the next generation would enjoy the promised hope of a future. I would wager most of us would have issues with that concept!
Many of the different translations use the words “plans” instead of “thoughts”, and “prosper” instead of “peace”. The Jewish Bible uses the words “thoughts” and “peace” and I prefer those words over the typical interpretation; they are closer to the original text. Too many Christians, and churches today tend to focus on the word “prosper” and preach money. There was a point in my life when I was part of several churches who preached the prosperity message. Trust me, it’s very easy to get caught up in that mindset, but that mindset relegates God to little more than an ATM in the sky. Western Christianity strikes again as that mindset preys on our greedy nature.
There is plenty of gold to be mined from Jeremiah 29:11 that has nothing to do with our own accumulation of wealth. God is telling His people, telling us in the midst of our exile, whatever that may be, that He is thinking about those He loves. We, as well as those who found themselves in exile, are constantly on His mind, and His thoughts are for our good; thoughts of peace and all that encompasses. To interpret “peace” as “prosperity”cheapens the message. Peace is eternal and permeates the whole of our existence, both personally and within the circumstances of our lives whereas prosperity is temporal and our focus turns to earthly wealth versus focusing on God. The interesting thing about wealth, or the accumulation of things is that one never seems to have enough, and the pursuit continues.
God assures the exiled that His thoughts are not for evil. Given the fact that His people were in a foreign land for the next 70 years living among their captors, for some it would be difficult to believe, but what else did they have? Faith only; a belief that God had this and in the end He had their backs. God offers hope and a future, the same He offers us today when we find ourselves in a foreign land; uncertain futures plagued by illness, the struggle to keep our heads above water financially, concern for our loved ones, you name it.
The nugget of gold here is a deeper understanding of the word “thoughts” and “future”. Our future always belongs to God, does it not? We cannot see it; we can hope life will take us in a certain direction, but we have no assurances that it will. Picture yourself in a boat moving forward with your back to the bow (front of the boat), and your only view is where you have been. As we travel through our lives toward our future the only view we have is of our past, in other words, hindsight. The saying is, “hindsight is 20/20”, right? Why is that? If we are paying attention, if we are focused on the lessons gleaned from our past, the future will, in part, be determined by the lessons learned and the direction changes we make to choose not to repeat our mistakes, our screw-ups of the past. The learned lessons and the course changes bring us closer to the promise of peace. A part of peace is resting in God, trusting that He has our back and our future firmly in hand, that we are ever in His thoughts. And, I believe, He offers peace in the midst of trial, struggle, turmoil.
So we are left with hindsight. We cannot see our future, only the past. Our task is to analyze where we have come from, figure out what the take-away is from each experience; correct the wrong turns, straighten the path, internalize the lessons learned. In this way our path is aligning itself with the thoughts God has for our future. We have free will so we have the option of choosing not to correct the crooked paths, to ignore the lessons, thereby choosing to repeat our past mistakes and peace will prove elusive. The choice belongs to us. God knows the thoughts He has for us, for our future, and His thoughts are for peace………