We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jeremiah 29:11: Another Abused Scripture

A friend asked me to look over some work he was doing for a Bible study, and one of the passages used to ostensibly demonstrate God’s care for us was Jeremiah 29:11. If you don’t know the passage, here it is in NKJV:

“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.”

Does this passage apply to the individual person? Absolutely not. The context is God’s discussion about Israel - the passage is about the nation of Israel, not about individual persons.

A question that must be asked is, COULD this passage in a different context apply to the individual? I have to answer, “NO.” I don’t think the Scripture says that God has a specific plan for each individual, other than allowing them to do what they want. And certainly we can’t say that God’s plan is for everyone to avoid evil when we have so many Christians martyred around the world. The only “future” and “hope” all Christians can look forward to is our eventual eternal life with the Lord. But while on earth, I’d say too many people have no hope of any future beyond the day’s survival.

Too often people (usually Calvinists) want to make God out to be nothing more than a puppet-master, with everyone’s lives preplanned from eternity past. Rick Warren, in his Purpose Driven Life, says God chooses when you are going to be born, who you will be born to, what color your hair and eyes will be, and even what you are doing this very moment. Can you imagine someone with congenital defects being told that God wanted him to be that way? What sort of a God is that?!?!?

Scripture does tell us God’s desires for us, but we are given freedom to choose how to live. The Holy Spirit will guide Christians, but they can still ignore him and do wrong anyway. God may lead us, but we don’t have to follow; that’s why we still sin. God does not force himself on anyone.

Now, can we take this passage in conjunction with many other passages from Scripture to demonstrate a principle about God’s attributes? Yes. But we can’t isolate this passage from its context and claim it for ourselves. It has nothing to do with the individual.

6 comments:

Drew said...

That one is *definitely* abused, for the fatalistic and polyannaish reasons you stated. The reason God had good plans for Israel was because he had already told them they would give birth to the Messiah.

Ron Livesay said...

I agree that this is one of those misused Scriptures. However, I do believe it is biblical that God has our lives planned out. "Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them" (Psalm 139:16, NASB).

I found great comfort in this when when my first wife went to be with the Lord. She made her life better with exercise and eating right, but she did not lengthen her life. She lived all the days that God ordained for her, and she completed the work He called her to do.

I don't believe this makes God a puppet master. Instead, it makes Him a loving Father who knows what is best for each of His children. In the same context, the next verse says. "How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:17, NASB).

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Hi Ron,

There is no passage that says God has our lives planned out for us. What Ps. 139 says is that God is outside of time and sees the end at the beginning. He KNOWS by foreknowledge what we will do, including with whatever leading He gives, but he doesn't fore-ordain it or else our lives would be preprogrammed. Does that make sense?

Ron Livesay said...

Glenn:

There are many things in the Scriptures that don't make sense to my human mind. I just accept them by faith and trust that He knows what He is doing. Someday I will understand.

I am a "Calvinist" (for lack of a better term) who believes that God's sovereign will works in harmony with human responsibility (not "free will"). Do I understant that? Absolutely not, but I submit my lack of understanding to His wisdom.

I can take a glimpse at this truth by considering a very imperfect illustration of a fly that gets in the car. No matter what that fly may do, no matter how much it may disturb the driver or be annoying, when the car gets to its destination, the fly is there too. The outcome was predetermined, and the fly did according to its will, but in the end, only the will of the driver mattered.

Our natural rebellion may cause catastrophies in our lives, but in the end, we will arrive safely in our heavenly home because of the loving will of our heavenly Father.

I believe that our perception is not always the same as reality. God is very likely more in control of things than we tend to think. He used the enemies of Israel to discipline His people, but He still held those nations accountable for their actions, and He was absolutely just in doing so. Whatever He does is right and just.

He expects us to act wisely, but our lack of wisdon does not destroy His plan. We cannot just sit back and wait for Him to do the work, but the reality is that God gets to be God, and His will is going to be done. That's why we are on safe ground to pray, "Thy will be done."

Oops...sorry to sound a little "preachy" - couldn't help myself. Maybe I will modify this and post it on my blog.

Again I say - I really enjoy your blog.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Hi Ron,

Your analogy of the fly was fine - but notice his actions were not preplanned by the driver. He just happened to get stuck where the driver was going. His destination was temporarily changed, but once he left the car he was on his own, and even all his actions in the car were his own choice. Actually, getting into the car was his choice!

God is sovereign in that he can step in at any time and do what he wants, but that doesn't mean he ordains everything we do. If we have no free will to choose to love God, then love is worthless. What sort of love is it that is preprogrammed?

I am NOT an Arminian - I need to say that first. But I think Calvinism is one of the worst things that ever happened to the Christian faith. It makes God into a puppet-master - no one chooses whether to follow God - it is forced upon them. And the strange logic that Calvinists use to say God chooses who to save but doesn't choose who to condemn doesn't make sense. If you choose who to save, then by extension those who are not chosen for salvation are chosen for damnation.

The Bible plainly says that God gives us the ability to choose to follow him or not.

But, I don't want to have this degrade into a discussion about Calvinism; I prefer to avoid that issue. But the idea that God has our lives planned out is part of the Calvinist model, which is one of the reasons why I say Calvinism is such a problem.

Ron Livesay said...

Agreed... no illustration or analogy is perfect. Also agreed... your blog is not about Calvinism. It is about defending the faith, and I appreciate that greatly. Too few Christian leaders do that any more.