Monday, January 03, 2011

The Experience vs the Expectation Pt. 1

Jeremiah 29 is an interesting chapter.  I'm sure we are all far too familiar with the whole "I know the plans..." part of the scripture in verse 11 and have probably either quoted or had it quoted to it to us in regards to our purpose, and the fact that God has a plan for all of us.  But, what about the rest of the chapter?  This morning, I kept thinking about what the KJV version calls "an expected end," and more specifically what that expectation was.  

I am reminded of a conversation I had with my cousin Din a few months ago in which he pointed out the context of this passage.  Jeremiah wrote this letter to the exiled children of Abraham while they were in exile.  In the midst of their captivity and in the face of what could be seen by some as God forsaking them, Jeremiah speaks on behalf of God and tells his countrymen that God has not only not forgotten them, but has actually used this as a part of His plan.  Seriously- are you kidding me?!  If I'm one of the Israelites reading this letter, I am prone to believe that it's a bunch of bull because the God who delivered Moses and their predecessors is the same God who called Abram out of nothing to become their forefather, is the same God who spoke to Jacob in a dream, but somehow wants me to believe that this whole exile thing is part of the "plan" He has for me?  That's difficult to swallow at best, absolutely ludicrous (as in Jeremiah is off his rocker) at worst.  But it gets better...

When you back up and read the entire chapter, and interesting concept comes into view.  As Jeremiah writes this to the captive Israelites, he tells them to do something that is utterly ridiculous.  He tells them to suck it up and deal.  In the face of their captivity, and with the knowledge that God is perfectly capable of delivering them, Jeremiah says to not hope for their deliverance, specifically he says “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce.Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away!"  Really Jeremiah- multiply (insert Bebe's Kids reference)?  Here's the problem with this whole thing- God SHOULD be setting his people free...right?  I mean, we sang that old spiritual about going way down in Egypt land and you're telling me to stay?  More than that, you're telling me to have GRANDKIDS?!  This is a problem because (if I were the Israelites) I want out.  I want to return to a land of milk and honey.  I want fatted calfs and to worship my God in the place that I see fit, how I see fit to do it.  But, instead, I'm being told to kick back and embrace my captive state.  I'm essentially told to like it.  So, the next question I find myself asking is why.

Jeremiah goes on to say in verse 7, "And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare."  As if it weren't bad enough that they had to live in exile, now God is asking them to pray that their captors prosper and live at peace with their enemies- the same enemies who could (ostensibly) set the captive Israelites free if a war were to break out.  This is part of God's plan?  I would find that difficult to believe, but there it is plain as day in Jeremiah's letter... crap.

Now comes the part we all know too well:

10 This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

But notice something interesting, specifically the usage of the phrase "but then" in verse 10.  It implies that God will only do for the Israelites all that comes after once all that comes before has been done.  The usage of the conjunction (see here for more info) then denotes that the blessing spoken of in verse 11 can only happen if and when the captives are for their captors.  Peace and God's purpose for the Israelites can only be found when Peace and God's purpose for their enemies is sought.  So, this is what we're in for?  With all the experience we have with God delivering those that came before us, we're supposed to sit back and take on the chin the fact that God won't be delivering us right now?  We're supposed to accept that God will deliver, not our children, but our grandchildren, and that all of this captivity is for a reason?  This too is a problem.

It's a problem because, like so many of us, I have prayed to be delivered from situations.  I have earnestly sought the Lord, asking for His salvation from what I perceived as a "bad place" and believing that I had found myself in that place because of some enemy that God wanted to show Himself strong against.  But what if that's not entirely the case?  What if my being in the camp of my enemy is instead so that I can pray for their success?  What if my purpose amongst those that would take my life is not to pray for their ruin, but for their good- to pray for their salvation instead of their damnation?  What if God is "preparing a table in the presence of my enemies" (Psalm 23:5) not so I can show off and snub my nose, but rather so that I can show them the faithfulness of God that is available even to them, and in so doing expose them to His grace and love so that they can be changed.  What if my captivity is a part of Him showcasing His divinity?  What if the experience(s) I have in the place of my captivity is so that my expected end can be to show love to those that may not deserve it?  What if that love changes the(ir) world?

My natural response would be "well crap- I wanted them to suffer and be taught a lesson"  To that Jesus would reply, "I suffered enough, show grace."  Ouch.

I've got more thoughts on Experience vs Expectation coming tomorrow (or whenever I remember to post again).

Pursue.  Original.

1 comment:

Stefanie said...

Damany, you are amazing! I have only known you as "my wedding dj" but to know that you are such a spiritual man brings a smile to my face. I knew there was a reason I was drawn to you! Thank you for making my day! I look forward to reading more of your thoughts :)