This post was originally published at http://www.stunksstage.com/2007/04/08/jeremiah-2911-and-a-christian-response-to-those-who-hold-to-it/, on Sunday, April 8th, 2007 at 9:50 PM.
And I still agree with it, so I’m recycling it today. I did slight editing to correct my 25 year-old, caps-lock-friendly self (the same 25 year old self who would write: “you are a jerk, and I hope I meet you so I can punch you in your face. yeah, I’m that serious about it.” What was I thinking, writing that?).
Editing aside, the message is intact. Enjoy!
“Jeremiah 29:11, and a Christian Response To Those Who Hold To It.”
By Christopher Stunkard
Grace, peace, thanks, and all manner of blessing upon each and every one of you for venturing here today. May your paths be adventurous yet well guarded and secure as you seek all of your dreams and goals in this world. To each and every one of you reading, I hope you get all you want in life.
Jeremiah 29: 11,from the NIV Bible, 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,’ ” The quoted word of the Lord continues after that, but for many people, the message ends there. Most people read that verse, feel good, and see no point in going further.
For this discussion, I will. Verses 12-14 read, “ ‘Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord ‘and I will bring you back from captivity . I will gather you from the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’ ”
Now, I don’t have the Hebrew text or the histories of Jospehus in front of me, but the general theme of “Jeremiah” is that God sent a prophet…to tell the Lord’s people to turn from their evil ways, lest they be delivered into the hands of their enemies and placed in captivity. At face value, the above versus were intended for the Lord’s people, from God, through Jeremiah. While verse 11 offers a very encouraging message of hope, the verses which proceed it give a bit more contextualization and, really, stipulations for “the plans” to be completed. Verse 11, in and of itself, is not even a complete sentence, but a fragment of a larger declaration by God– and, frankly, to hold onto it alone as a source of encouragement and hope, in essence, interrupts God mid-thought for the benefit of one’s own need to feel a particular way. Okay, now, that I’ve given a very brief and inadequate overview of the text, I will get to the real issue at hand.
The issue is this: Jeremiah 29:11, this fragment of a much larger declaration, this message intended for Israel, is perhaps the most-widely held verse of Christian people during times of pain, trial, and tribulation. Believers will say, “I can deal with the death of so-and-so, becuase like Jer. 29:11 says, God has a plan for my life, and this is a part of it.” They will proclaim, “It’s okay that I lost my job, for God has plan for my life, like he says in Jer. 29:11.” I have heard numbers of individuals, many of whom did not know one another or receive similar Christian education claim this as their “life verse”. This is a verse, that when taken as its own message, without context, helps people through the hardest of times, the most difficult or circumstances, the harshest blows life has dealt.
We’ve established from my brief and inadequate overview that, even at face value, this verse, taken alone, is NOT the full declaration of God, and that it IS contextually meant for Isreal–God’s People–as a whole people group. Now, above, I’ve presented the fact that some hold to this verse alone as a declaration from God and [do so], without context. Okay, so here’s the question. What is the best response to these believers?
Yes, that’s what this article is [addressing]. It’s not a study further into the text, not an exegesis. It’s not a defense for why this verse is still applicable to the church today. It’s not even an exploration of why this verse brings people hope. Right here, right now, I am not concerned with exegesis; I am not trying to discover its [applications] today; I’m not worried about why people find hope in it as I have established that they do. My concern circumvents all these and gets to a different point of interest: [how should one respond to the people that hold to this verse for hope based on a face value reading, despite one’s knowing that this verse is part of a larger whole, with a possibly different or, at least, more complicated and nuanced meaning?]
Well, I am gonna be frank about my opinion, and it is bound to [ruffle] any scholars reading. I think the BEST (not only, but best) response, is to encourage the individual, affirming the truth of the verse without disparaging their faith itself. I know that’s kind of complicated, so I’ll explain. If a person brings up this verse as their “life verse”, or it is getting them through something, let them find comfort in the truth of the verse. Tell them, “Yes, God knows his people, and for his people, he has a plan.” That much is definitively accurate from even our most surface reading of the verses; and Christians, God’s current people, should find great solace and peace in that. There is nothing wrong there. Should you try to educate them–maybe tell them to read the verses before-and-after and encourage them to seek God for discernment and guidance?? Absolutely, you should. But. But. But. But. But if a person is vulnerable with you about their faith, their most deep convictions regarding their very soul, and they use this verse to help anchor that, don’t take that from them–at least not like a band-aid [right off]. Love the person and direct them toward further truth.
I explain this for a very important purpose. Knowledge is not better than faith when it comes Christianity. That is the reason that children and scholars can both repent and hold to belief in Christ. It is the faith. Knowledge enhances the faith; it affirms it, it strengthens it, and helps the believer understand the source of it better. But make no mistake, for Christians, faith is much, much more important than knowledge. …
That being said, if you are a scholar of the word (to any degree), and you attempt to throw your knowledge at someone, fully knowing it could damage or destroy their faith, particularly in a time of crisis or tribulation, then [I plainly disagree with you]. I went to a Christian University, and I cannot tell you the number of times that so-called “Christian Scholars” saw fit to use any disagreement as a pulpit from which they could throw around knowledge in order to show their superiority over others [wounding faith in the process].
Guess what, we’re all sinners in need of grace, and whether you are Franky the Five-year-old or Sammy the seventy-year-old-with-three-doctorates-and-four-studie-Bibles-credited-to-your-name, in the end, it’s your [repentance] from sin and faith in Christ that save you. …
That being said, love people, strengthen their faith and your own, encourage them to love God and love him yourself–don’t use your scholarship as a means to prove you are smart and right, and they are weak and wrong. Use your knowledge for the building of the saints, for the loving renewal of their faith in a God [much] bigger than you.
I [reiterate] this point [because] I am as guilty as anyone of the reprehensible “I-know-more-than-you” behavior. But I have hurt others more than helped with this [behavior], and I cannot see how it could have glorified God, so I am saying this to myself as well. If someone holds to a verse, ignorant of its deeper or grander meaning, love the person, validate and affirm the truth they know, then build upon it. …Love them, lead them, walk alongside them–even if your studies have led to you an arguably deeper and more full meaning thn they are ready to accept. I say, “arguably” because, in all honesty, the individuals I know who have held to Jer. 29:11 for hope have a much deeper connection to it than those who view it as just another declaration by God to Israel, solely about his plans for her, only meant for her people.
Now, there’s something to think about.