Have a few more questions to ask today if you’d be willing to consider them for yourself. Starting out easy, do you like to plan ahead sometimes? Do you ever have to cancel your plans? Have you ever cancelled a plan you’ve had because someone else offered you an even better plan they happened to have?
Stayed tuned to find out why these questions are important.
Many, perhaps most, Christians think that in the Bible God reveals his own plans for our future. If you’ve personally thought in those terms about the Bible, perhaps you also have a particular verse in the Bible that you might associate with God’s plans.
I sometimes hear folks say they claim God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11, that reads: “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.” Typically, they find this verse reassuring in terms of their own personal future they believe God has all planned out for them. These folks think in terms of their own individual prosperity to come. They like that kind of plan on God’s part, for rather obvious reasons, and like to claim its promise.
As a pastor, I used to inwardly cringe at hearing folks refer to this verse. I hated the thought of bursting their bubble by telling them the truth about its meaning in context, so typically I’d let it go as is. Let them interpret it to their own personal satisfaction. Even though the biblical truth is God was NOT making this promise to Jeremiah personally, or anyone else personally or individually. The whole idea of salvation from God throughout the Bible was that it is collective, not individual; something God continually does for the whole group, not just one member. Personal salvation was never even mentioned throughout the scriptures of our Old or New Testaments. Rather, God was telling Jeremiah in 29:11 to promise all the captives taken from their nation of Judah to the nation of Babylon that he planned for “their” future return home and their collective, not personal, prosperity.
Hope in reading this now you don’t find it offensive, but God’s plans may not be for you personally but rather for you socially or culturally. That’s what the Bible consistently says about God’s plans. God manages the macro, not the micro; the big picture and not the little details. Supposing God actually counts the hairs on your head today, he has no plans for how many you’ll have left tomorrow.
I know. This spoils any hope that God is a U.S citizen, or a champion of western civilization with its post-medieval emphasis on self-determination. So much for our own “rugged individualism” or personal prosperity as being a “God thing.” The prosperity gospelists will now label me a heretic for sure, as if I really cared.
Staying a bit longer with Jeremiah in the Old Testament, we may learn a lot from its reading about how God goes about making plans. Besides doing so for nations or cultures, not individuals. The jist of God’s plan as revealed to Jeremiah is that God will not interfere to prevent the nation of Judah from reaping what it sows, or you may prefer “from experiencing the full consequences of their own collective choices.” God plans NOT to prevent either Judahs’ freedom of choice or responsibility of consequence. Even if that consequence would be the destruction of the Temple located in Jerusalem. And, as you may already know, this is exactly what happened. The nation of Babylon came to Jerusalem and destroyed everything, even the Temple of God. God never did reveal to Jeremiah any plan to protect even his own Temple, let alone the good individuals of Judah, from bad suffering. Never promised to prevent “harm” from any individual member of that larger social body called the nation of Judah. God only planned to save the nation; not its individual citizens.
Already you may be thinking up objections to use against me here, at least in your own mind, and you may especially object when I tell you that the Bible’s final book, the Revelation of John, should probably be read applying the same lesson we learned from Jeremiah. God’s final plan is not about you. Or me. The book of Revelation, like the book of Jeremiah, is not really about even us. That’s right. It was about the 1st century Christians, especially those of Jewish background, who were in exile away from second-Temple Jerusalem, where yet again the Temple of God had been destroyed by Rome, also known in Revelation as “Babylon.” And as with the original Babylonian exiles to whom God promised through Jeremiah, God’s plan through John was for these current 1st century exiles to have a future with prosperity and not harm.
You see, God has used the prophet Jeremiah and the apostle John to communicate God’s own plans for the larger community of people now suffering while away from home. Communal prosperity, not communal harm, is the plan. And from these two books of scripture we can learn that God’s plans for people, as a whole community or culture, will always be good, and will always come true. Trouble is these plans are never the same as we had for ourselves, which were indeed about “self.” Yet, they are, we learn from scripture, so much better than ours that, given the choice, we may well cancel even our own plans in order to participate in God’s plans.
Next time, I’ll be referring to God’s ultimate plan as revealed by Jesus. Spoiler alert: it’s even better than the plans revealed by Jeremiah and by John. Similar as they may be in some respects dealing with collective prosperity instead of harm, this ultimate plan is the best ever possible. I can hardly wait to share it with you!!