“’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)
This is a popular verse often quoted to provide people hope in their personal circumstances in life. It’s also a verse about which people have written many critiques and admonitions not to take verses out of context.
On its face, this verse seems to say that God has plans for us, and by “us” I believe most people assume it means for each one of us. God has plans for you… and for me. His plans are to prosper us, not to cause us harm. His plans include hope and a future. That is exactly what this verse says, right?
I’m going to go out on a limb and says, “Yes!” It means what it says. But I think we tend to jump to the conclusion that it’s all about us. And here, I have to admit that the application of this verse to modern individuals in the 21st Century is not the primary meaning.
I don’t think that means that we shouldn’t find application of the verse relevant to our modern lives. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) This verse seems to suggest that all Scripture, not just some verses, are applicable and relevant to “the man of God” (each one of us).
But that being so doesn’t suggest that the context isn’t important. While God may speak to us, as I believe He does sometimes, personally through isolated verses and passages, there is a broader context. That broader context is itself, “profitable” to us. In fact, the broader context often provides insights we would fail to see any other way.
To be perfectly frank, we tend to view our lives, Scripture and even God in very myopic and provincial ways. We focus heavily on our immediate circumstances and our immediate future. Even when we are thinking beyond our immediate circumstances and future, our focus tends to be this worldly.
We are, at a basic level, finite beings. Our vision is finite. Our focus naturally gravitates toward the finite. But God is infinite, and He offers to us his infinite love and an infinite destiny.
When we think about Jeremiah 29:11 in the context of an infinite God who, therefore, has infinite plans for us, that perspective changes everything.
St. Augustine, I understand, emphasized the multi-layered meanings of Scripture. From the literal to the figurative, the present to the future, and so on, Scripture can be understood at different levels, and each level of understanding is “true” and is profitable, has application, to our lives.
In that vein, we should always be mindful of the big picture. The big picture is God’s grand design, His overarching plan for us and all humankind. And these plans are being worked out in the history of the world and in our collective and individual histories.
With that said, let’s look more closely at Jeremiah 29:11 in the context of the period in history in which it was written and in the greater scheme of God in the history of His dealings with mankind. We will do that in Part II of this series on The Plans God Has for Us. And then we will come back to its relevance and application to us today.