Let me introduce you to one of the worst verses in the Bible:
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.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
If you’ve been in or around a church for more than two weeks you’re probably tempted to label me a heretic right now. Because that verse is the golden child of the Christian universe. It’s the place we go to in the midst of chaos to reassure ourselves that God has our back. It’s the promise we claim when we’re worried about the future. In fact, it’s probably the most popular promise of God in the entire Bible.
But it’s not the promise found in the verse that makes it so bad. It’s our response to what the promise is predicated upon. Before Jeremiah 29:11 comes Jeremiah 29:10. And there we find the context of God’s promise: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.”
God had plans for Israel. Plans of prosperity. Plans of giving them a hope and a future. But first came 70 years of exile in a foreign land, waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. 70 years of poverty preceded plans of prosperity. 70 years of pain and danger preceded plans of no harm. 70 years of seemingly hopeless present circumstances preceded plans of a hopeful future.
This is the reality we don’t like to talk about when we quote Jeremiah 29:11. Yes, God does have plans for us. That’s an incredible promise we should cling to. A promise that’s true. A promise that’s more than a pipe dream. But it’s also a promise that doesn’t always find its completion now. Sometimes it’s later. And later is usually always later than we want it to be.
What makes Jeremiah 29:11 one of the worst verses in the Bible has nothing to do with the verse itself. It’s the imposition of our timetable onto it. We expect the utterance of this verse to calm the chaos now. To get God to reveal our future now.
But that’s not the purpose of this verse. It’s supposed to give us something to cling onto in the midst of chaos. In the midst of an uncertain future. In the midst of circumstances that scream the very opposite of what God is telling us He has for us. It reminds us that regardless of what our present reality and waiting might tempt us to believe, God has not forgotten about us. We are still His people. He is still our God. And while we might have to wait in a place we don’t want to be to see them come to fruition, He still has plans for us.
And it’s when we can embrace this that Jeremiah 29:11 becomes one of the best verses in the Bible.