By Jamie Martelle
I’ve been reading through the book of Jeremiah. It’s filled with gut-level honest and, as it turns out, totally accurate prophecies delivered by the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah. He relayed God’s message of impending discipline and suffering for wayward Israel and Judah – His special people, set apart from the rest of the world – telling them that He would allow this to happen to them because of their wicked ways. The Lord tells the people through his servant, Jeremiah, that He will bring down their leaders, deliver them to their foreign nations and send them into captivity for decades. Reading along these lines, I was almost surprised when I came to 29:11, “for I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I’m very familiar with the verse. But it seemed odd in the way that it came along in a story so filled with adversity and judgment for God’s people who have been unfaithful to Him.
As we read through the Old Testament, we see over and over again God’s people failing to live as He has commanded them. God allows them to suffer the consequences of their actions so they eventually realize they have strayed far from His ways and His will for their lives. We can see in this story the principle of reaping and sowing (Job 4:8).
But, back to verse 29:11, “for I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” God isn’t giving up on His people, regardless of how far they have wandered. He loves them, and He perseveres with them, in spite of their stubborn, willful, self-defeating tendencies. I am so thankful that He doesn’t give up on me, either. The really beautiful thing about this message in Jeremiah, and in God’s nature toward us, and in the very gospel, is the recurring echo of His redemptive purpose. I have a note in my bible scribbled hastily from a talk given by a speaker whose name I have since forgotten, which says, “although we don’t always understand the mysterious sovereignty of God, we KNOW it is redemptive.”
Just a little later in the Jeremiah narrative, we are told:
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. (Jeremiah 33:14-15)
We know that Branch, and we are known by Him. We love Him, and He loves us. Christ Jesus, the name above all names, the Lion and the Lamb, who gave Himself up to death and was resurrected, and ascended to the right hand of the Father, so that we may live eternally through His atoning sacrifice. Justice and righteousness have obviously not been attained in our land, so we know the story has not ended. This, too, is prophecy, yet to be completely fulfilled.
I love that the stories of the bible, throughout the Old and New Testaments, tell us that whatever is happening right now, or whatever happens tomorrow or the next day, whether it be the consequences of our own foolish actions, or someone else’s that affect our lives, this will always be true: that God’s purposes for us are to save us, both from the evil in this world and from the evil within ourselves.
In her book Less Than Perfect, Ann Spangler quotes Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them; but, the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Things really haven’t changed so much since the Old Testament times. We look around and wonder and we say things like: “what is wrong with the world?” “Why are things so messed up?” “Why does God allow all this violence, anger, hatred, and strife?” “Where is God in all of this???” At least part of the answer we can know through His Word is that God has given each and every human being the freedom to choose between good and evil. The truth is, the human heart has been horribly corrupted since the fall, when man and woman first perceived good AND evil, and in that condition, had to leave Eden before they could become eternal beings in that corrupted state. As such, we are not inclined to always choose what is truly good on our own – we don’t really even have the faculties to know what the truly good choice would be. Tragically, in God’s eyes and in our eyes, we see the result of so many choosing to act on evil impulses. This, also, is expressed by Jeremiah, in Chapter 17, verses 5 through 10, but particularly in verse 9: The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
Is it hopeless? No. See what Jeremiah has to say in these verses:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord, for he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8).
We have a future, and a hope, because God has promised it. He has made a way – is making a way – for us to come back to Him. Jeremiah wrote in 31:33 through 34, and the author of Hebrews quoted him in 11: 16 through 17: “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them” then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
We have a future, and a hope, because God sent His Son, Jesus. I would like to leave you with the words of Peter, the apostle, writing to a people like the ancient Israelites and Jews who had come to believe they could follow God – as misled modern-day Christians believe they can follow Christ – and live in whatever way they please – following their own very human hearts – believing the lie that grace absolves them from the responsibility of living a holy life as God’s holy people (I can almost hear the hiss of the serpent, “God surely didn’t say…”). So Peter, in his second letter, Chapter 1, verses 2 through 8, writes: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Live your lives in such a way that others can see the light and life of Christ within you. Be kind, be peacemakers, and truth-tellers. Love the Lord and love others, and live in God’s love for you.