By Anthony Casperson
“You just gotta have hope.” What does that statement even mean? Most of the time, when people say it, they infer that one person has to understand that change is coming. It might not seem like it, but things will get better. Whatever negative situation the person finds themselves will one day be left behind. And the sooner that they begin to think this way, the faster that day will come.
It’s a promise that whatever the person wants will come to be. It’s a blank check for the future. Write down whatever you think your life should like and it will be so. Your expectation will become your reality as long as you have hope.
But it’s a promise without true knowledge. It’s a check that’s likely to bounce. No single human being, by themselves, can foretell the future with such accuracy. And God will never give such a blanket promise either. Some, will certainly be led to greater things, but some will spend their whole lives in a place that they would never want to be. Their desire is elsewhere, but it will never happen.
Sometimes God’s plan goes against our desires. When that happens, our expectations meet with God’s reality, and having a “just hope hard enough” perspective will never supercede the plan of God.
Often times, followers of Jesus will speak of passages like Jeremiah 29:11 without letting people in on the rest of the passage. The verse says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (ESV).
“See, God promises us hope and good. That means that whatever we hope for, God will give,” some will summarize as the basic premise of the verse. But the truth is that the verse speaks of a future and hope in the midst of not getting what the people of Israel want.
Some of the people from the southern kingdom of Judah had been sent off to Babylon. The exile was just beginning. And these Israelites desired to be sent back to the land of Israel. They expected that God would step in and help them with this oppression. The negative place of being in captivity would be undone if they just waited long enough and believed it hard enough.
There were people, both in Israel and in Babylon, who told these exiles that they would only be in exile for a short time. People claimed to have dreams, supposedly divine, that said it would be but a short time and they would return. But the problem was, God hadn’t sent any such word.
As a matter of fact, the prophet Jeremiah was given a different word form God. One that said the people’s expectation would never come to pass. In Jeremiah 29:5, God speaks through his prophet to tell the exiles that they should build houses in Babylon. Essentially, they should put down roots because they were going to be in this place they wanted out of for a long time.
Verse 6 continues this idea. Get married in Babylon, you don’t have to worry about cutting your honeymoon short when the return from exile happens. You have so much time, even your children will be able to marry in Babylon without trepidation of missing out on the return. Basically, God is saying that generations will pass in the exile.
Continuing on to Jeremiah 29:7, God has his prophet tell the people that they should even pray for the welfare of Babylon. As that land of exile goes, so go the exiles. Its welfare is your welfare. Its good, your good.
Jeremiah speaks the truth of God when he tells these exiles that 70 years would pass before God returns the Israelites to their land. It is more than likely that these particular individuals would never get to see their desire. They are probably going to die in the land of unmet expectations.
It’s then that we get to verse 11 and God’s word to the Israelites that his plans are for their good, to give them wholeness and not evil, a future and hope. Does this mean that God is dangling this promise for the children of these exiles in front of the people? Is he teasing them by saying that his plan is for a future and hope that has nothing to do with them?
No. God isn’t sadistic. The future and hope that these exiles are to have is the same as the future and hope that their children have. And it’s the same future and hope that we followers of Jesus have. God is in control. These are his plans and his ways. God is good. His ways are good. His desires for us are good. In whatever place we find ourselves, it’s in line with the good that he has for us.
It might not be what we expect, but it is the good and right way of God. The truth of who God is and what we mean to him is our hope. Not that things will definitely change one day, but that the unchanging God who seeks our good has led us here.
It’s an unchanging hope that seeks our good over our wants.