I had trouble in school with history classes. The stories were often interesting (whether or not I appreciated it at the time), but I had trouble remembering dates and names. As a result, I learned that a lot of things happened, but not necessarily how things fit together.
Perhaps that is the limitation of all of us human beings, even those who are much better at history than me. No matter how much we try, we are unable to learn all there is to know about the world in the present, much less the past. In addition, while God has given us minds to think and study, we’ll never put all of the pieces together (on this earth) of how everything fits, and why all past events occurred the way that they did.
Still, God gives us partial ability to synthesize and understand why things are the way that they are, and how history fits together. I feel like this is enough for us to appreciate how much we don’t know, and how God does make things work together for good (Romans 8:28). We can trust Him to take care of all of the things we don’t understand, and the things that we can’t plan, because we can understand at least a little bit of His work.
Consider the plans that God had for His people, as prophesied by Jeremiah:
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. 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.
Jeremiah 29:10-11 NLT
This prophecy was delivered to those who were already in exile (see Jeremiah 29 and following). We probably understand their confusion, and could excuse them for not knowing the result of what God was doing. Their immediate view of God’s plan looked like being taken from the Promised Land by hostile forces, and the outcome wasn’t obvious. (In fact, God’s 70-year timeframe for their exile meant that some people would be born and die without ever seeing their homeland. See the “Timelines” article for more thoughts on that.)
Note the end of the passage above, though: God’s plans were going to result in something good. While the path to redemption went through some tough times (due to the need for some discipline, in this case), the outcome would be better than the present exile. The people who had been cast out of their homeland might not have appreciated it at the time, but good would result over the following decades (and even centuries).
I think that sometimes we need to remember why God has plans for us. God is not out to get us. He is not watching over our shoulders waiting for us to make a mistake. And, whether our difficult times are the result of discipline, or merely the consequences of living in a cursed, fallen world (because of the sins of humankind in general), God has a purpose in His plans. What He allows (even while giving people free will to choose their allegiance) is leading to something better.
That is why this verse (along with other related promises of God) is so important to understand:
- Without hope, we could very well struggle to get through the day. When we can’t anticipate a better outcome, there is no purpose in going through suffering. Doing the right thing, especially when it is difficult, would often appear to have no value or reason. Hope in God’s nature and promises gives us the motivation to continue our labor, until our part in His plan is wrapped up. God provides the strength, and when our hope is founded on His promises, it isn’t a “wishful” hope, but rather a certainty that we look forward to.
- Without a future, our choices would be short-sighted and probably selfish. If we don’t trust God that there is an eternity, or don’t believe that He has a plan for us beyond today, we will probably just seek to entertain ourselves (like the man described in Luke 12:16-21). In many cases, short-term thinking is the enemy of long-term success (although that sounds like something I might have heard in a leadership class).
Without trusting God, all we have is what we can see around us, which is a terribly small slice of reality. If you are going through a time of “exile” (or other struggles) today, I encourage you to memorize the passage above. Sometimes it takes a while for all of the results to become visible, but God’s plans are indeed for good. May you eagerly anticipate the hope and future that God has ready, awaiting its “big reveal” at the right time.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.