This is a reaction to one Facebook post linking to Relevant magazine’s article, “Stop Taking Jeremiah 29:11 Out of Context,” and a few conversations with friends on the same topic. I have the sense that the article expresses a view that’s gaining traction, or regaining it, in circles I’m familiar with. It’s only a few conversations (2) and the recent FB post that caught my attention though, so I’m not absolutely certain that it’s a significant trend. I just have a hunch.
First, the verse, with a bit of context: “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. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.” — Jeremiah 29:10-12. ESV.
The article in Relevant complains that this verse (11) is too often applied to individuals (struggling to make life decisions). The passage clearly refers primarily to Israel in exile, not to any one of us in our individual situations.
Granted. Now what? That was an interesting piece of history, but apparently it doesn’t directly apply to you. Moving on, now. After all, you’re still looking for guidance, or comfort, if you’re trying to deal with trouble that overwhelms you. What about God’s encouragement to Joshua when he had to shoulder the massive responsibility of leading Israel into Canaan? Obviously meant for Joshua, not you. Next. God rescuing Israel through Judges when they cried out to him in their misery? Nope. Meant for a group, aimed at Israel, not you. Israel delivered at the Red Sea? God’s promise to David? The promise given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?
There are plenty more examples. If thinking redemptive history applies to your situation is misusing the text, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that the Bible isn’t for you. It’s true that the Bible points to Christ, and that the gospel is for a whole group, not just you. You are for the gospel, is more like it. You are for God. The article I’m responding to says all that, more or less. Still, if you believe it, the gospel is for you. It’s for you as someone who matters to God as an individual and as a member of his Church (not that you can be either one without being the other at the same time). So Jeremiah 29 should be a source of comfort to you. No, as Relevant rightly points out, it doesn’t mean that God plans for your new business to be wildly successful. But I suspect you already knew that.
Given the way God dealt with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I’d say God cares quite a lot about your specific situation now, and as often as you cross paths with Jeremiah, I bet there’s a reason you’re being reminded of God’s plans to prosper the exiles. As you know, it’s not that you too will get rich or married or healthy soon because you read the verse. It might be God saying, deliberately, to you, “Focus. See how I was good to Israel. Trust me,” in that way he has of being terrifyingly stern and impossibly gentle both at once.