On the Jer. 29 verse

The verse that Zoe has chosen as a sort of symbolic touchstone is the part in Jeremiah 29 where he says

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.

Jer. 29:11, NRSV

That’s a great-sounding verse, and we have it on one of the t-shirts we’ve gotten from Zoe. I’ve sometimes heard it in other context besides Zoe.

I always had a tiny problem with it, though, and that is that it sounds a little saccharine, a little Hallmark-y. “Don’t worry, says the Lord, everything is going to be ok.”

It’s a bit outrageous to present that verse as if it will comfort orphans who are struggling every day to avoid starvation.

As Christians, though, we do have faith that everything will turn out ok, even if things seem hopeless now, and we do ask people to just have faith. That’s the line, anyway.

But I think it’s worth looking at the context, as Rachel, our trip leader, mentioned one night:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.
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. 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. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Jer 29:4-14, NRSV

Get on with your lives. Build houses, plant gardens, marry and have children. Work for the welfare of your community (even though you are exiles in its midst), because the benefit of the community will redound on you. It’s going to take a long time. Keep the faith and stay in touch with God.

And that, to me, is a lot less saccharine.