Promise: God Plans Good for You
“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.” – Jeremiah 29:11
For regular readers of PlaceForTruth, you may have given a good little chuckle when you read the title of the article and then the prooftext that we’ll be dealing with. Indeed, this verse is famous in Reformed circles for one that is largely taken out of context and used in any number of nefarious ways. For those who may not frequent the site as much, this verse may be one that you regularly recite to yourself when contemplating what it means for you to be a Christian. You may hold fast to this verse as God’s promise that He will bless your life and give you any number of earthly joys and pleasures. Regardless of which group you generally find yourself in (or perhaps neither of them), there is real truth to what God says here, because, well, it’s what God says. The promise is real and we do want to cling to every promise of God. But context matters, and so we want to think through what the context of this promise is and what it may mean for each of us.
The first two-thirds of Jeremiah 29 contain a letter written by the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel who had been taken captive into Babylon. The first command of the letter is instruction for the people to make themselves comfortable while in exile, to build houses, plant gardens, marry, and importantly, to seek the welfare of the city in which they are exiled. For the people of God in exile, both then and now (cf 1 Peter 1:1 and 2:11), making a home in the foreign land while also remaining a distinct people of God is vital to our faithfulness to God. The classic mantra, ‘in the world but not of it’ is true enough. The next statement of God in Jeremiah 29 is that when their 70 years of exile are finished, He will bring the people back to their land, and His plans are for their good and prosperity. This wonderful promise is fleshed out in much greater detail in chapters 30-33, the primary passage containing details of God’s New Covenant promises. Yet interestingly in the last part of chapter 29, God highlights a false prophet who was circulating false promises and messages to the people. He apparently didn’t like the message of God to the people, so he decided to create his own and pass it off as being from God. Ironic, considering this is how many false teachers use our primary verse of interest today. But the context is clear: God promises good to His people in the midst of pain and suffering. If you can imagine a foreign power marching into your land, raping your women, pillaging your goods, and stealing your children to be taken off into a foreign land, then you can imagine the pain and suffering these people were feeling. Yet even in the midst of this suffering than most of us cannot even fathom, God promises that He will return them to their land and He will once again prosper them there. Furthermore, He will make a new covenant with them, a covenant in which He will make it so they no longer disobey by giving them His Spirit to dwell within them.
This promise of God in Jeremiah 29:11 is certainly one in which the suffering servants of God can look forward to a future time when the suffering will be taken away. For those Christians who are undergoing persecution, who are facing the threat of death for Christ, or even those are burdened with the difficulties of life in a fallen world, this promise is comforting and encouraging. The New Testament is clear, though, that for us, this prosperity is not in this life but in the life to come. Scripture is quite clear that believers are to expect trial and hardship in this life. As our Savior suffered, so will His church. Yet the promise of endless joy in the life to come is real, bringing comfort and hope to millions of suffering Christians throughout history.
Yet there is one more piece to the puzzle that God makes clear in James 1: suffering itself is for our good. The brother of Christ commands us to consider it joy when we face various trials because we have full confidence that these trials will produce good within us. God uses the trials and sufferings of this life to conform us more into the image of our suffering yet glorified Savior. So when we suffer, we not only rejoice and take hope in the life yet to come, but we also rejoice because God is using the suffering to do something in us in the here and now. He is sanctifying us, growing us, and building our godliness. He is also using our suffering to take from us any false hope we have in earthly joy and satisfaction. In the words of the final verse of John Newton’s hymn “I Asked the Lord”
These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.
Jeremiah 29:11 reminders us that God’s people must find their all in Him.
Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.