12 Comments

When ‘a Future with Hope’ Fades

A friend who’s in the midst of a dreadful situation admitted that Jeremiah 29:11, a verse she had clung to in her youth, now seemed unbelievable.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.—Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)

Jeremiah

Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem, by Ilya Repin, from The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Knowing she didn’t want to hear my full exegesis just then, I only told her that my interpretation of this verse isn’t exactly Joel Osteen material.

I think the main problem with people, especially Christians, clinging to this verse is that, in its original context, it’s a promise for the nation of Israel.

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.—Jeremiah 29:1

Large numbers of Israelites were already in exile at this point. Jeremiah wrote to “the remaining elders”—which implies that some of the elders were already dead. He reassured them that the punishment for their apostasy (which had been warned of in Deuteronomy 28) would end and they would be restored to the promised land.

For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.—Jeremiah 29:10

They would have to ensure decades of exile before being restored to the future with hope promised in Verse 11. Seventy years! Some individuals wouldn’t survive that long. They would die in exile.

The people were eventually restored to the promised land, but it didn’t happen quickly, and it wasn’t permanent. They were overrun by the Greeks and the Romans and the Turks, and the people of Israel wound up scattered across Europe, where they were maligned and oppressed for centuries. Where was their future with hope?

Then came the Holocaust.

How can you cling to a verse like “surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” when you’re standing in a boxcar on your way to Dachau?

In 1948 the modern nation of Israel was formed. But millions of Jews did not survive to see that happen. This reinforces my belief that the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 is not for any individual. It’s for the nation of Israel.

Yet even now, that nation is surrounded by enemies who would like to wipe them off the face of the earth and finish what Hitler started. Israel is prosperous, but under constant threat.

As long as we live on earth, our future is not secure. Even though as New Testament people we are heirs to the promises of Abraham, we can’t take Jeremiah 29:11 to mean that our individual futures will all be bright. The apostle Paul, for example, never got rich, never got healed, and never had a life of security. He was brutally executed by an oppressive regime.

Our hope on earth can never be for security or health or prosperity. Because on earth those things never last. Not for nations, and not for individuals. Our only hope is that Jesus has overcome the world. When the new heaven and the new earth come (Revelation 21), then we will have security, health, and prosperity. That is the future with hope.

But in our modern culture, we don’t like to be told that the promise of a future with hope is at the end of time. We want our security, health, and prosperity now. But that’s not what we’re promised, no matter what Joel Osteen says.

I don’t think this is particularly comforting, either to my friend or anyone else. Unless one really believes what the book of Revelation says.

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About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

12 comments on “When ‘a Future with Hope’ Fades

  1. Tough truth to swallow, no matter where one is at spiritually. Who wants pain? But even Jesus said each day would have its share of troubles and the Psalms are full of heart-felt anguish with a hope in the God of the eternal and the God of the here and now. Living within that tension is the test of any Christ follower.

  2. Kristen,

    While I fully respect your opinion of the verse’s context, I couldn’t disagree more with the claim that it cannot be applied to present-day individuals. The Lord knew the survivors of the nation of Israel needed to hear words of hope, thus he sent these amazing words to Jeremiah. But could He also know that these very same words would be a source of inspiration and encouragement to all future generations as a reminder of His great love for us? I think limiting God’s words to the strict context of Babylonian captivity is to put God in a box. He knew the importance of the words He gave to Jeremiah then, and I believe He knew that they would be important to all of His children, regadless of time and circumstance. I believe C.S. Lewis brilliantly illustrates this point in The Silver Chair.

    • I understand, Scott. That’s why I made the point about New Testament people being heirs to the promises. My point was that this was originally for Israel, but Israel’s history is as full of trials as it is of blessings. So we can’t interpret that verse as meaning everything is going to be OK in the here and now. As J.E. pointed out, the here and now is full of troubles. The hope is for eternity.

  3. Thanks for this post. It is a good corrective to wrong application of Scripture, of which I am guilty. In addition, the imagery is stunning, especially the picture of the Jew bound for Dachau reciting the verse. Lots to ponder. Chaplain Daniel.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  4. The picture of the Jew aboard a train bound for Dachau reciting this verse will remain with me a long time, especially when I think of God as the White Knight swooping down to rescue me, or shield from pain and sorrow those I minister to and love. Thanks. Chaplain Daniel.

  5. Well, that’s your opinion, but that’s not what God’s word says. He says, He will work all things out for my Good. Eph 3:20 says Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, That’s what I stand on. God created a new covenant that is now for those who trust in Jesus. God always takes care of His own. Why does bad things happen to Christians? That’s between them and God, you weren’t invited to that meeting. God keeps things private for a reason and He only explains Himself to that person. For each person, it’s different. I had a horrible nightmarish childhood, but it’s brought me closer to Father God in a way nothing could. He IS giving me a great future. Paul understood this, that’s why he told us to rejoice when bad times come.

    It’s not fair to God to say, He won’t bless His children or help them or give them a good future. That’s not what He said He’d do. It’s just plain gossip to say something other than His word. As I said, you have a right to an opinion, but you really need to have verses that back it up. And there are no verses that say God doesn’t have a good future for His children. Yes, we will have trials, it will be rough, it will be a long road, but God still has a great future for me. He is with me the whole time, He carries me, guides me, shepherds me to the point that I can endure whatever comes my way. He will never once abandon me. A wonderful future for is waiting for me. To say otherwise is calling Him a liar. You said my future is not secured. Yes it is. I am in Christ and that makes my future sealed. He has a plan and He will reveal it to me. Yes, there will be problems, but He is with me and He will make me secured in Him. I am in Christ, sealed and preserved. God will take care of the hard times. He’s good at that. That’s what Paul discovered that no matter what happens, no matter how bad it gets, no matter who says what or does what, Paul was safe and secured in Christ Jesus. That’s all that matters, being in Christ.

    • Kim, I’m not sure why you come across as so antagonistic, as if you are trying to contradict me — when you’re saying what I said only from a different angle. Yes, we have a future with hope. But it’s not health and wealth right now, as some people want to believe it is. It is the hope in Christ in spite of our trials.

      Scriptures to back up what I said? All the epistles of the apostle Paul. His life demonstrates what you and I are both saying — there is no hope in the flesh. Our hope is in Christ.

      • It seemed as if you were saying that God doesn’t have a future for us and that what happens, happens. God didn’t help the Jews, so He won’t help us. Thanks for clarifying

  6. And sometimes we get upset with God b/c He’s not doing what we want. If we just sit back and let Him work, then He WILL give us that great future. A future that we can sit back and says, that was God. That’s what He does all the time. It will be rough, it will be hard, but He is there to carry us, help us, give us grace, move mountains. He’s an amazing God.

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