“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon,I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 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.” Jeremiah 29:10-11
Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.When it comes to understanding the God of the Bible, context is everything…and perspective counts for something as well. Numbers 14:20-23
My brothers and sisters who preach a prosperity gospel (i.e., that God intends for you to have material wealth and to have it right now) claim Jeremiah 29:11 separate and apart from Jeremiah 29:10. In other words, they catch the good news of the promise of hope and a future but they gloss over the bad news that it would come only after a lifetime of exile and hardship (and for many who would die in exile, it would not come in this life at all).
By the same token, my brothers and sisters who favor a dark, judgmental, angry gospel point to Numbers 14 and God’s judgment on the people of Israel who rebelled against Him, but they tend to miss the unbelievable mercy He showed in allowing them all to continue living in the first place (thanks to Moses’ pleading). Consequences? Yes, but with a heavy dose of mercy mixed in.
Context matters. And so does perspective.
The “hope” and “good news” Jeremiah preaches in Jeremiah 29 includes a timeline of hardship almost twice as long as the 40 years of exile in the wilderness for the Hebrew people in Numbers. Hope and welfare? Absolutely. But with a heavy dose (70 years) of consequences mixed in.
So what do we take away from these realities in scripture? For me, it is that God is…complicated.
And so are our lives and the life of the church corporately.
We should probably stop measuring God’s “favor” on us or on His church by whether or not we made budget this year or by our percentage of growth in numbers attending worship. Rather, we should stay focused simply on whether we are being obedient to the things we know God has required us to do and say, and leave the results up to Him. We should probably stop stressing over the fact that there is disagreement within the church. Rather, we should stay focused on how we love each other even in light of that disagreement. We should probably quit agonizing over why God would permit all the pain raining down on us and on our church today and start remembering that, as Christ followers, the world WILL hate us and life will be difficult, even unbearable at times, and that our treasure is in Heaven…along with our real home.
We have all peeked ahead and have seen the ultimate outcome…good news, God wins in the end! We’re on the winning team! Bad news: we still have to fight the fight and play the game, and there will be set backs and injuries along the way. Embrace it. And rejoice!