"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11).
I feel that if I could understand this verse I could understand all verses. That is, if I could know for sure whether, and how, this Old Testament word applies to me, living here in the New Testament age, I would have cracked the code of all Scripture hermeneutics.
My sense is that there is a lot of fuzziness in our convictions. One person, when pushed to the wall for his theological position, will say the Lord is speaking in this passage only to the Israelite exiles and not to us. Another person's formal theological stance will be that the passage is for all believers at all times. But even "exclusively Israel" types, in more relaxed moments, will allow themselves to bask in the hope of Jeremiah 29:11. They have no right to, if they want to be consistent with their position. But a kind of good-natured liberality seems to take over and they forget all that strict "context" talk.
Or it's possible that they are theologically sophisticated enough to understand that even if Jeremiah 29:11 is not, technically speaking, fair game for a Christian deriving hope and encouragement, there are many other places in the New Testament and Psalms that do speak to us moderns along the same lines as the sentiment in Jeremiah 29:11. In that circular fashion, these rigorists come full circle to saying their "amen" to Jeremiah's statement. Moreover, this sophisticated person extrapolates from other Scripture disclosing the character of God that it is consistent with his character to hold out a promise like Jeremiah 29:11 to all who will come to him.
This is fine with me. But that's a lot of work, and I am inclined to think it need not be so complicated to derive a personal word from the verse at hand. My hunch is that the ticket to this conundrum is the Presence of God in his Word. Though it is true that the grammatical principles regarding contexts and grammar and syntax must always be taken into consideration, our God is an out-of-the-box God who is not confined by these.
The uniqueness of Scripture over every other kind of writing is the Presence of God in it. It is a Presence that is brimming with life in itself, and it cannot be contained in our rules. God's Word is capable of possibilities beyond those of merely human writing. God is able to speak to you in his Word as individually and personally as he spoke to the Israelite exiles.
So the humble Christian opens her Bible and reads---"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, plans to give you a hope and a future"---and it is a balm for her weary soul. She feels God's Presence in these syllables. She hears his voice, as God's sheep always recognize. The Spirit in her testifies with the Spirit in the Word.
It would be nice if we could settle the matter once and for all and argue less. The New Testament writers said it themselves:
"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scripture we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).
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