“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.”
This verse shows up regularly on several websites I visit. It wasn’t familiar to me, however, so reading it in context I was delighted to find there’s even more to it than first meets the eye. It’s in a prophetic letter Jeremiah sent to Jews living in exile in Babylon. They weren’t living abroad by choice. The Babylonians seized their land and deported them to gain control of their territories. While their captivity was not enslavement per se (as in Egypt), in many ways it was more severe because it represented traumatic loss.
Before the invasion, life was good. Their kingdom, culture, religion, and identity were strong—perhaps too strong. They became complacent, proud, and less concerned with God. Although it grieved Him greatly, He permitted this venue change for His people to relearn important lessons they forgot. He sent them away to work on themselves for 70 years. As they languished, He directed his prophet to write His reassurance that their isolation wasn’t for naught.
The Babylonian exile mirrors the experiences of GLBT and ostracized straight believers. Social advances in our lifetime blinded us to the spirit of exclusion invading the church. We believed the general tide of tolerance would defeat the religious fear and taboos holding us back. Not so. Churches equated acceptance with approval, which they wouldn’t grant (forgetting that was God’s, not theirs, to give or withhold). Hurt and confused, we mourned our fate. Many of us railed against the plan. And few if any believed God was using it to teach us invaluable lessons we would bring back from exile.
That’s what occurred with the Jews. The return from Babylon was a pivotal moment in their history. Once restored, they changed their nation. They shook off tribal divisions and reorganized into diverse, unified communities. Even their alphabet and ideals changed. How they saw—and wrote about—the world improved. Life in a strange land endowed them to lead their brothers and sisters who hadn’t suffered their misfortunes abroad.
“It’s God’s plan” is the last thing we want to hear when losing what’s precious. But accepting it is the first step toward claiming our future. He plans to prosper us, not harm us, to give us hope. We have to know we’re homeward bound. Our time in Babylon has prepared us with knowledge and skills to help lead our churches, community, nation, and world to brighter days. May it be so.
God has plans for us, collectively and individually. We're homeward bound, prepared to claim our future.
(Tomorrow: A Place to Pray)