We Christians, especially in the West, love to try and make Scripture speak favorably of the “American Dream.” We take verses like Philippians 4:13, as we saw yesterday, and shove them into a part of the puzzle where they just don’t quite fit. I want Paul to be saying that I can be whatever I want to be and do whatever I want to do as long as I’m keeping my eyes on Jesus. That sounds like a brilliant plan for successful “Christian living.” But that’s simply not what he says.
Another well known verse in a similar vein is Jeremiah 29:11. The unfortunate thing is that most people who claim this as their favorite Bible verse *probably* have never read the context, much less the rest of Jeremiah.
If there ever was a verse indicating that the American Dream is in line with Scripture, it’s this one. It’s like a pep talk before the big game. It’s the reassuring send off to a college freshman. It’s the hope that overcomes the butterflies as you begin a new career.
Or is it?
This is in the context of a letter written from Jeremiah to those carted away into exile in Babylon. Everything they have ever known has been taken with them. If they’re lucky, they might have some family members of friends around them.
Their country is in shambles. Their home is hundreds of miles away. People all around them have been killed. They have no money, no possessions. Their God has abandoned them. They are now forced to live in a pagan land among brutal people who worship false gods.
Complete and utter decimation of everything they had ever known.
And now they get this letter from a prophet back home telling them to get comfortable?! Are you kidding me?
Get married. Start a family. Buy a home. Plant a garden. Get settled and cozy because you’re going to be here a while. It’ll be your grandkids who make it back home, not you. And while you’re at it, go ahead and pray for the prosperity of the very country that ruined your life because if they prosper, you will prosper.
When we’re in the midst of a crisis, the last thing we want to hear is that it’ll all be okay. Things will get better soon.
God doesn’t do that. He essentially says, “I warned you this would happen. I told you. But this is your new life now. Get used to it. See you in seventy years!”
You see, all their lives the people of Judah had been looking after themselves. If you trace your way back through Kings and Chronicles you will see that most of their decisions were extremely selfish and short sighted. But now, for the first time ever, God is challenging them to think about future generations. When God says, “I know the plans I have for you,” He’s not talking specifically about the recipients of that letter. He means their grand children.
The readers are stuck. They got themselves in a bind and now they can’t get out. Tough luck. But in seventy years, God would return, gather their grand children and great grand children, and lead them all back home. Or at least He would lead all those who wanted to leave Babylon, which by that time would become their home.
So when you read this verse, Jeremiah 29:11, it’s still a verse loaded with hope. But it’s not hope for you. It’s hope for your grand children if you do the right things today.
This is not a verse of hope and comfort, it’s a verse of challenge. Are you up to the challenge? Will your grand children be better off because of the choices you are making right now?
“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 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. Then you will call on 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 will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all 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.” Jeremiah 29:10-14