I was 21 when my parents got divorced (I remember the year specifically because my dad was driving across the country on September 11, 2001). And while I am thankful that it happened when I was old enough to know what was happening and hear the words of hurt and anger as exactly that, it was still a life-altering moment. For anyone who has been a child of divorce or been through one themselves, you know that one of the hardest challenges is the loss of hope. The family foundation has been altered, and visions of grandparents and great-grandparents, family reunions, holidays, and everything we expected life to look like changes too. And in those days and weeks and years that follow, the thought that anything could ever be that good again seems far away.
That moment of my life makes me think of Israel’s time in exile. The dream of Israel, of the ‘land flowing with milk and honey’, kept them going through slavery, wandering, and years of struggle. And, sitting there in exile, in a land that was not theirs, for all intents and purposes, that dream was dead. And the exile wasn’t just a political moment either, Israel had been brutally conquered and their best and brightest minds, their hope, had been dragged away to exile.
And If I’m there in exile, I’ll admit, hearing the prophets say ‘don’t even unpack, God is on the move!” would’ve been music to my ears. Justice for me is coming and coming swiftly, and hope is coming with it. Finally, a quick solution! However… Jeremiah’s words then come as a bitter pill “Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them” (Jer 29:8-9). To make matters worse, God continues: I sent you there, and you’re staying for 70 years. There’s no quick-fix, no easy out.
For me, that’s what’s so challenging about that next verse: “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” (Jer 29:11). Because He is not saying you know the plans, or even I know the plans you have, but I know the plans I have. Us and our plans don’t factor into the equation at all! This message of hope is completely dependent on trusting in God’s knowledge and God’s plan. But how do we do that when we are sitting in the reality of that exile? How do I do that when I know my parents are never getting back together, when I know I’ll never get these last 4 months of my life back, when I know that untold thousands are still going to die in this pandemic? How do I trust then?
And the truth is, I don’t know. There are plenty of days that seem hopeless, plenty of days that I feel powerless to change anything, plenty of days that just seem too much. But I look back to the Exile. 70 years meant that those hearing this message would not be around to actually see God’s plan come to fruition. We talk about heroes of the Exile, like Jeremiah, Daniel, or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and none of them got to go back to Israel. So that message of hope wasn’t even for them, or even their children. ‘Teach this to your children, and your children’s children’, then they will “seek me and find me when [they] seek me with all [their] heart. I will be found by [them].” (Jer 29:13-14).
And they did. And 538 years later, that hope came in the form of a baby in Bethlehem. But who could see that one coming? Honestly, God had never done anything like that before (or since), but He has come through again and again, not only for Israel, but all His children. And though it is certainly not easy to trust in times like these, not easy to hope when it seems nothing is certain, He is. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”.” (Deut 31:6).